With Masters victory, Scott proves he’s not the same guy who blew the British Open

April 15, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It had to be hard. It had to come down to not one, but two tricky putts — one that seemed like it would win the Masters for Adam Scott, and one that actually did.

It had to be hard because when Scott tried to read that second putt, on the second playoff hole on a dark and rainy evening, he could barely even see the green. He asked caddie Steve Williams to help him. But Williams could only tell him how the putt would break. Scott had to answer the bigger question, which was simply:

Who is he?

Last summer at the British Open, Scott melted down so thoroughly, officials had to scrape him off the 18th green. He had a four-shot lead with four holes to play, and he choked, closing with four consecutive bogeys to lose to Ernie Els by a shot. "Wow," Scott said that day, before he had even finished stabbing himself in the heart.

He was still rich and handsome and damn good at golf, even by the high standards of the PGA Tour. But Scott couldn't escape that British Open. Everybody saw it. Many would define him by it. Money can't insulate a man from the looks people give him on the street, or settle the turbulence in his gut.

Scott understood this better than most. As a 15-year-old in Australia, he skipped school, expecting to watch his countryman and hero, Greg Norman, win the 1996 Masters. But Norman collapsed in the final round — it was probably the most infamous collapse in Masters history, and maybe even in golf history. Norman had a six-stroke lead, shot 78, and lost by five.

Who is he? Was Scott just a talented golfer with an impressive bank account who couldn't steady himself under pressure? Or was he a major champion — sure enough of himself to come back and show it?

Scott knew he could not run from that British Open. He told himself that simply being in contention "did give me more belief that I could win a major. It proved to me, in fact, that I could."

Scott stood over those putts on Sunday evening, in British Open-like conditions, and he knew — not that he would win, but that he could. He knew he was not the person who blew the British and never got over it. He wouldn't let himself be that person. And that is why he won the Masters.

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What is was the difference between Scott and Angel Cabrera? In the end, inches. Cabrera nearly won the green jacket with his chip on the first playoff hole. Scott did win it with two putts that somehow fell. What was the difference between Scott and Brandt Snedeker? Snedeker thought he was ready. He is one of the best players in the world. Last year he won the Tour Championship, which in turn clinched him the FedEx Cup. He received a $10 million bonus for that, showing he was steady enough to handle the pressure.

On Saturday, Snedeker said, "I've spent 32 years of my life getting ready for tomorrow, and it's all been a learning process and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I'm ready to handle no matter what happens tomorrow. I'm going to be disappointed if I don't win, period."

For whatever reason — nerves, a few loose swings, surprisingly poor putting — Snedeker fell apart. He shot 39 on the back nine, easily the worst score among the contenders.

What was the difference between Scott and fellow Aussie Jason Day? Was it the placement of the finish line? Through 69 holes, Day had a two-stroke advantage over Scott. Through 72, Scott had a two-stroke advantage over Day.

What was the difference between Scott and Tiger Woods? Four strokes, technically. But Woods lost those four on a single excellent swing — the wedge shot on Friday that hit the pin and spun back into the water, leading to Woods's illegal drop (his fault, of course) and a two-stroke penalty.

What was the difference between Scott and everybody else this week? Maybe it was nothing. Scott's ball almost rolled back into the water at the 13th hole on Sunday; somehow, it stayed on the bank. That wasn't talent or execution. It just happened.

So maybe there was no difference between Scott and everybody else. But there sure was a difference between Adam Scott and the person he could have become after that British Open.

On the practice green, he worried that the putting surfaces would be fast, but then rain softened the course and slowed the greens, and it took him (and most players) a while to adjust. But on the 72nd hole, facing a long birdie putt, after a mediocre day of putting and with a sketchy major championship history, Scott was sure of himself.

The crowd around that green was most un-Masters like. Fans were a bit unruly, and I'm not exactly sure why, but they had been sitting in the rain for a while. You can't spell "beautiful American tradition among the azaleas and magnolia trees" without "B-E-E-R," and alcohol may have contributed. Anyway, it felt more like a Ryder Cup than the Masters.

Scott uses a long putter. The USGA has proposed that his method of anchoring be banned, effective in January 2016, though that may depend on which golf governing body has better lawyers. He anchored his putter, hit the 20-footer and drained it.

In the moment, Scott celebrated like he had won the Masters. Sure seemed like he had. But behind him in the 18th fairway stood Cabrera. The two have been Presidents Cup teammates, and they are friends, but in the context of this Masters, they were coming from different planets.

Cabrera has won twice on the PGA Tour. Both were majors — a Masters and a U.S. Open. With his eight career Tour victories, Scott has been a better player, but not a better majors player.

Cabrera's approach stopped three feet from the cup, a preposterously great shot. He made the putt and forced a playoff.

Rain kept falling, harder and harder. If most of us were playing in a rain like that with our buddies, we would have headed to the clubhouse. Adam Scott did not have or want that option. He made par on the first playoff hole, No. 18, and birdied the second, No. 10, for the green jacket.

Seventeen years after Norman's collapse, Australia has its first Masters champion. Scott found his father, Phil, behind the 10th green. Phil is also a professional golfer. He taught his son how to play. But only Adam could teach himself how to win.