Cedar Rapids, Iowa News, Sports, and Weather
AUGUSTA, Ga. It was raining. It was dusk. It was dreary.
It was sublime.
It was Argentina against Australia in a sudden-death playoff Sunday. Argentina got a pope a month ago. Australia got a Masters champion Sunday night. Joy abounds in both nations for both firsts.
"We like to think we are the best at everything, like any proud sporting country." said Adam Scott, who defeated Angel Cabrera of Argentina in the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
"It's been a sport that's been followed with a long list of great players, and this was one thing in golf that we had not been able to achieve."
Suddenly, Scott is the biggest sports hero on the world's biggest island.
Masters media chairman Craig Heatley, a millionaire a couple hundred times over, broke up as he introduced Scott at his Sunday press session. Heatley is from New Zealand, 900 miles east of Australia.
"When I heard the roar down on 10," Heatley said, "a second later I heard about 30 million people in Australia and New Zealand all cheering, as well. I can't even describe the pleasure that it gives me to welcome and congratulate you."
The way Scott won and Cabrera competed had to give great pleasure to golf fans and fans of sport in general. Under as pressurized a situation as golf provides, both players stepped up and rose to the occasion on the final hole of regulation with two very different birdies.
Scott sank a 20-foot putt on No. 18 to get to 9-under, and then had a high-five with caddie Steve Williams of New Zealand that had enough smack to be heard all the way to Brisbane. It was instant Masters lore, followed by more when Cabrera's stuck his approach shot at 18 inside three feet of the cup, and then made the short putt to force the playoff.
Both players went fairway, green, two putts for par on No. 18, the first playoff hole. Both went fairway, green on No. 10, the second playoff hole. Cabrera's 15-foot birdie putt grazed the edge of the cup. There was nothing hesitant about his effort.
Then, Scott's 12-footer for birdie left the blade of his long, broom-handle putter and landed in the center of the jar for the victory.
There have been Masters champions from Canada and Wales and Fiji. There was one from Argentina, Cabrera in 2009. Now, finally, Australia.
Aussies have finished second here eight times, none more memorably or infamously as Greg Norman's 1996 capitulation thanks to a 78 on Sunday. Norman led by six shots entering the last round, but lost by five strokes to Englishman Nick Faldo.
"He inspired a nation of golfers, anyone near to my age, older and younger," Scott said. "You know, he was the best player in the world and he was an icon in Australia. Everything about the way he handled himself was incredible to have as a role model.
"Just that was enough, but he's devoted so much time to myself and other young Australian players who came after him. Incredibly generous."
Generous would aptly describe Cabrera in the moments after Scott made his clinching putt. He hugged his younger peer and remained gracious in the media center later.
"Golf gives and takes," Cabrera said. "Sometimes you make those putts, sometimes you just miss them.
Cabrera was as tough as any slab of Argentine beef during the final round. Just when it looked like he was slipping, he birdied 16. He hit that brilliant second shot on 18 after hearing the roar for Scott's birdie on the green ahead of him. He knew nothing but a birdie would work, and he bagged one.
He has a lot of international wins, but only two on the PGA Tour. They are the '09 Masters and the 2007 U.S. Open. What percentage of pros play their best in the biggest, hardest moments?
Many a more-celebrated golfer has done less than win two majors and lose a playoff for a third. Few have a stout physique, acquired a nickname ("El Pato") because they waddle like a duck, and are more fond of cigarettes than energy bars.
But a prototype golf star from the land down under won this one. Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
And here's my sidebar on Zach Johnson's final round on Sunday:
AUGUSTA, Ga. After his round of golf was over Sunday, Zach Johnson said he felt a score of 66 or 67 had been attainable for him.
He shot a 75.
Golf. Augusta National. Sunday at the Masters.
Pin locations weren't despicable and wind was virtually nonexistent. "It was a day," Johnson said, "when 5- or 6-under was there if you just remain patient. I just didn't quite get it."
He was 1-under through his first eight holes Sunday. Four reasonable birdie opportunities eluded him. He then had four bogeys on the next six holes, and ended 3-over for the round and a 3-over 291 for the tournament.
The result of his second shot at the par-5 No. 13 left him "utterly and completely shocked" after he put it in the gully in front of the green.
"I don't understand that," Johnson said. "Another yard, I'm making birdie at worse. A yard. Maybe even a half-yard. That's unfortunate."
When it was over, the 2007 Masters champion from Cedar Rapids tied for 35th place. Discouraged, he was not. To the contrary, in fact.
"A lot of positives," Johnson said. "A couple things need to be ironed out, but overall, a lot of positives. The direction's good. A lot of solid shots. Very few mis-hit shots as far as not being solid. My putting needs to be freshened up a little bit, but that's Augusta."
Johnson has just begun a string of tournaments he likes a lot, and the May-June-July period has often been his best of the year. He drove three hours from Augusta to Hilton Head, S.C., for this week's RBC Heritage tourney.
In May he'll play The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial (He's won there twice, including last year.), and Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in Ohio.
"I'm excited about the schedule," said Johnson. "Next week, certainly. I love Sawgrass. Obviously, Colonial. The Memorial's a good tournament that I haven't played in two years.
"This stretch right now, when you get into May and June, there's not a bad tournament."
June brings the U.S. Open. This year's site is Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. It's a track that could play to Johnson's strengths.
"I haven't seen it," he said. "Everybody says it's pretty short early. A lot of wedges and 9-irons. Later, it gets longer. It's a good test, and I'm excited about it."
On to Hilton Head.