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Beyond The Shadow Of A Doubt

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | It’s a funny thing about darkness. Sometimes when you’re in it, if you look carefully enough, you can find the light. Nine months ago on the rugged links at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in Lancashire, England, Adam Scott lost an Open Championship he should have won. He led by four strokes starting the final round and by four strokes with four holes to play. Scott didn’t make another par, undone by four closing bogeys and the capricious nature of golf that left Ernie Els with one hand on the Claret Jug and another on Scott’s slumped shoulders. It was a cruel end that left Scott on his knees on the 18th hole, staring into the empty distance. When it was over and the disappointment began to subside, Scott saw the light. “When I get back there, I’ll be better the next time,” Scott said at Lytham. He was right. Dampened by a steady, cold rain and racing the dying gray light early Sunday evening, Scott won The Masters with a brilliant finish, beating two-time major champion Angel Cabrera on the second extra hole with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 10th green. It was thriller-movie good, the last hour Sunday making it worth waiting through a slow-to-ignite final round. For the longest time, this Masters seemed destined to end with a whimper, its legendary roars turning to snores, its legacy likely to be framed by controversy rather than conquest. What movement there was went the wrong way. Tiger Woods stalled. Brandt Snedeker retreated. The leaders stayed where they were. Scott felt it. “Going down 15, I felt it was far away still,” he said. The 32-year old Aussie had the weight of his homeland on his broad shoulders. No Australian had won The Masters, Greg Norman’s heartbreak waving like a lag over a nation of golfers. Jason Day and Marc Leishman felt it but couldn’t change it. Day had the first chance, taking a two-stroke lead to the 16th tee, by which time Leishman had faded. But Day limped home with two bogeys he blamed on his nerves. When only four players were left on the course, all on the par-4 72nd hole, Scott faced a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th green while Cabrera, with whom he shared the lead, watched from down the hill in the fairway. Scott knew the putt turned right to left, just like it did when Mark O’Meara buried a similar putt to win the 1998 Masters. It threatened to miss on the left edge then caught the hole and fell in. Augusta erupted. Scott screamed, “Come on, Aussies,” and half a world away, the Australian workday was in joyous disruption. “For a split second, I let myself think I could have won,” said Scott, who walked off the 18th green hearing a champions’ chorus, escorted by his caddie Steve Williams. But Cabrera is tougher than a Death Valley summer. He once said, “When you grow up hungry, you’re not afraid of anything.” He responded by hitting his uphill approach shot three feet from the hole for a birdie, golf’s version of a last-second plot twist. A soft, damp afternoon had gone electric. On the first playoff hole, Scott and Cabrera matched pars, the Aussie’s heart stopping briefly when Cabrera’s chip shot brushed the cup. On the second playoff hole, Cabrera – with the demeanor of a bouncer – lashed a thumbs-up to Scott as they walked toward the green, an acknowledgement of Scott’s counterpunch to Cabrera’s approach. The fans lining the 495-yard hole three deep, the crowds stuffed around the tree-shrouded green and millions watching around the world felt the same way. Tomorrow was closing in. It was so dark on the 10th green Scott couldn’t read his putt. After Cabrera missed, Scott called Williams over to help him. “He was my eyes on that putt,” Scott said. Scott wanted to hit his putt four inches right of the hole. Williams told him it had to be at least eight inches to the right. Scott trusted the caddie who won 13 major championships with Tiger Woods. Like darkness, trust can be a funny thing. After his loss at the Open Championship last July, Scott wasn’t broken. In fact, he was better. “It gave me more belief that I could win,” Scott said. “It proved it to me, in fact.” When the winning putt fell in, Scott raised his arms and screamed. So did Augusta and, if you listened closely enough, you could practically hear Australia. Scott stood on the 10th green like Springsteen doing Born To Run, breathing in the noise and the moment, arms raised in the rain. When Scott finally left the green, Cabrera put his arm around the man who can now share Augusta’s champions’ locker room with him. “I’m happy for him,” Cabrera said. In a corner just off the 10th green, Scott found his father, Phil, who taught him the game. Phil had been there at Lytham and he was there early Sunday evening. He only attends the Open Championship and The Masters. Scott wrapped his father in a hug and heard Phil say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” It was dark but it didn’t feel that way.


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