AUGUSTA — Greg Norman saw three Australians on the leaderboard at the Masters and had reason to believe more heartache was near.
Adam Scott couldn’t make anything but pars and Jason Day was losing ground, both three shots out of the lead going to the back nine at Augusta National. Marc Leishman was another shot behind, and that’s when Norman decided to step away.
“I went to the gym at the turn because I was nervous,” Norman said Sunday night, euphoric over Scott’s playoff win in the Masters. “I got out of the gym in time for the last four holes. My son was with me, and my wife. The three of us were so into it. The mood swings, the conversations we were having, my texting, it was off the charts. I can only imagine how everyone else felt when I was playing.”
Those times always ended with the wrong kind of tears.
Each loss was another reminder that an Australian had never won the Masters, making it the holy grail of golf Down Under. Some of it was his own doing, such as the six-shot lead Norman famously lost to Nick Faldo in 1996. Some of it was cruel, no greater example than Larry Mize chipping in to beat him in a playoff in 1987.
Norman finally made it to Butler Cabin, at least in spirit.
“Australia is a proud sporting nation, and this was one notch in the belt that we never got,” Scott said before slipping on the green jacket. “Amazing that it came down to me, Marc and Jason Day. It could have been any of us. But there was one guy who inspired a nation of golfers, and that’s Greg Norman. He’s been incredible to me and all the young golfers in Australia. And part of this definitely belongs to him.”
In most countries, a trophy is cherished because of the many tales of victory that go with it. The Masters became a big deal in Australia because of a string of defeats.
“Look, I was a small part of it because I loved the Masters,” Norman said. “This is about Adam. Because of what I did, it created interest in the Masters, just as other players before me. I couldn’t get it across the line, and that increased the intensity. ‘Why couldn’t you win the Masters as the No. 1 player in the world?’ Adam deserved this. He’s been there. He served his penance in a lot of ways.”
It was only nine months ago that Scott lost a four-shot lead with four holes to play in the British Open, closing with four bogeys to fall by one shot to Ernie Els. He vowed he would finish the job the next time he had a chance, and that he did.
“Show everyone how much you want it,” Scott told himself before his 20-foot birdie putt swirled around the left side of the cup and disappeared for a 3-under 69 and a one-shot lead. Angel Cabrera answered with one of the greatest shots on the 18th under the circumstances, firing a 7-iron to 3 feet to force the playoff.
Two holes later, Scott called in caddie Steve Williams to help him read the putt in gathering darkness. Williams has caddied for Norman, Raymond Floyd and Tiger Woods at the Masters, and he knew it was faster and broke more than it looked. He told him to aim “two cups out,” and Scott drilled it.
And that it happened at the Masters made all the sweeter.
“Sitting there watching Adam, I had a tear in my eye,” Norman said. “That’s what it was all about. It was Adam doing it for himself, and for the country.”
Geoff Ogilvy was driving from San Diego to Phoenix during the final round. Seven years ago, Scott was about to board a plane home from the U.S. Open until he realized one of his best friends had a chance to win. He got off the plane and made it to Winged Foot in time for the celebration.
With no TV in the car, Ogilvy followed the final round on Twitter.
“For Australians, it’s absolutely enormous on so many levels,” Ogilvy said. “My whole generation – anyone from my age and older – are still scarred from all the great victories that got snatched away, from ‘87 onwards. The scars were there. People are going to be pretty excited this morning.”
The Masters is such a big deal in Australia that nobody wanted to go to work on this most magnificent Monday, when it ended just after 9:30 a.m. along the eastern coast. The prime minister had a speech interrupted to hear updates from the playoffs.
“Because of Greg, through all his incredible play and heartache, Australians have always thought they were owed one,” Williams said.
Scott was as gracious in victory as he was in a wrenching loss last summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which surprised no one. He has impeccable manners and treats everyone around him with respect.
Norman noticed that when he first met Scott at age 15 and gave him a ride on his plane to a tournament.
“He sat on my plane and talked and asked a lot of questions about me and about life,” Norman said. “I always had a lot of belief in Adam. I love this kid to death. He’s such a classy kid. He has a classic swing. I always knew destiny was going to be on his side.”
It was Norman who gave Scott a short-game lesson in 2004 at The Players Championship, and Scott put that lesson to use with a pitch to 10 feet to win on the last hole. Scott leaned on Norman again at the British Open, holding his head high after a monumental collapse, because that’s how the Shark always handled failure.
“He was the best player in the world and he was an icon in Australia,” Scott said. “Everything about the way he handled himself was incredible to have as a role model. And just that was enough, but he’s devoted so much time to myself and other young Australian players who came after him. Incredibly generous. Most of us would feel that he could have slipped a green jacket on, for sure.
“I said, ‘Part of this is for him’ because he’s given me so much time and inspiration and belief.”
Norman was No. 1 for longer than anyone until Tiger Woods came along. Australia golf was booming when he was on top and while the circuit is a shell of what it was, Ogilvy couldn’t help but notice Norman’s impact even today.
“We had three of the top four in the Masters today,” Ogilvy said. “That’s directly because we had the No. 1 player in the world and he was contending in the Masters. With Adam, there’s the potential for that effect.”