Scott facing double jinx: Aussies at Augusta and belly putters at majors

April 10, 2011

Is it finally going to be Australia Day at Augusta? There are three Aussies in the top 10, but Jason Day, Adam Scott or Geoff Ogilvy will have to ruin St Patrick’s Day to get that much-coveted green jacket. Rory McIlroy leads Day by four, Scott by five and Ogilvy by seven.

But McIlroy is the least of these Australians’ worries because there is still an infamous Aussie Augusta Jinx: No Australian has ever won the Masters. The names of their six runners-up (or first losers, if you’re an Aussie looking for spin) are a painful reminder of 75 years of hurt among the Augusta pines. Black ties on, please, and pay your respects to Jim Ferrier (1950), Bruce Crampton (1972), Jack Newton (1980), and poor old Greg Norman (1986, ’87 and ’96).

But there is hope again for the old green and gold. Jason Day, just 23, is tied for second at eight under par, Adam Scott is tied for sixth at seven under par and the 2006 U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy, is tied for ninth at five under par. Day has played three rounds with McIlroy and is still in the hunt. Ogilvy will need to go low on Sunday and hope that McIlroy wilts among the azaleas. Ogilvy will remember how he backed into his U.S. Open title when others, including Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, faltered at the final hurdle.

Australia’s best chance of victory and revenge is perhaps the experienced Scott. But he has another jinx that he needs to kill off: No one has won a major while playing with a broom-handle putter. His 67 on Saturday included only 26 putts, which he hit with a long putter tucked under his six-pack belly. If he put a cloth on the end of it, he could clean the upstairs windows of the Augusta clubhouse.

It’s been 15 years since Greg Norman imploded in front of Nick Faldo and the sporting world. Scott remembers it well. “There were almost tears at home that day,” he said. “Everyone was devastated. Greg was my hero. He was a demigod. He was ‘It’ when I was growing up. I spent my whole childhood watching Greg play here and contend here. The whole country did. Greg was bigger than just golf in Australia. He was an icon.”

Scott was mentored by Norman and was supposed to be his successor. It was an impossible task. But then Scott quickly raced to No.3 in the world and was suddenly heralded as the New Tiger with his Woods-like swing. But then disaster struck. He split from his long-time girlfriend in 2008, broke his hand in a car door, smashed his knee surfing and developed ulcers on his tonsils. His game fell to pieces.

He hasn’t had a top 10 at the Masters since his debut in 2002, or in any major since 2006. He hinted at a return to form when he won the Valero Texas Open last year. “To win here is probably indescribable; it’s something we haven’t accomplished in Australian sport,” Scott said. “We are a strong sporting nation and we push our athletes hard. One day it’s going to happen. But, you know, I don’t think the guys carry a burden. I think no one here is thinking there’s a voodoo on us from Australia. No one’s got over the line yet. But it’s going to happen.”

If Scott is to be the chosen one to break the Aussie voodoo that he says doesn’t exist, he’ll still have to break the broom-handle voodoo. It would be just Scott’s bad luck to be edged out by Day or Ogilvy. Then Scott really would be the new Norman: heartbroken at Augusta.

It is still not too late for Scott to fulfill his promise and to achieve something that eluded his hero Norman — victory at Augusta National. “I still certainly dream about it,” Scott said. “It’s been a fair few years.”

Of course, Rory McIlroy is planning to make it at least one more year of Aussie pain.