- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Adam Scott remembers his parents letting him miss school one morning in 1987 so he could watch Greg Norman try to win the Masters. Norman was “my hero,” Scott says — as he was to a lot of 6-year-old Australian boys back then. And after coming so close at Augusta National the year before, the Shark seemed destined to claim his first green jacket.

It didn’t play out that way, of course. For Greg Norman, it never played out that way at Augusta. This time he lost in a playoff, lost when Larry Mize’s miracle chip shot went rolling, rolling, rolling across the 11th green — and dropped, 140 feet later, right in the cup.

“We were all heartbroken when that happened,” says Scott. “It was a big deal [even] outside the golfing community when Greg Norman was playing at Augusta.”

Nine years later, when Norman coughed up a six-stroke lead to Nick Faldo in the last round and finished second here for the third time, his entire country mourned. Heck, some pro shops Down Under are probably still draped in black, because here it is 2007 and Australia has yet to celebrate its first Masters champion.

It’s hard to believe, given how many terrific golfers the country has turned out. Aussies began coming to Augusta in 1950, the year four-time Australian Open champ Norman Von Nida got an invite, and no fewer than nine of them have placed in the top five. Peter Thomson, Bruce Devlin and Bruce Crampton might be a little before your time, but surely you recall Jack Newton, David Graham, Norman, Steve Elkington and, most recently, Mark Hensby and Rod Pampling. (The list, moreover, doesn’t even include Craig Parry, who was the 36- and 54-hole leader in ‘92 before blowing to a 78 on Sunday.)

Who knows why this one championship has eluded Australia for so long? After all, Aussies have won all the other golf majors — the U.S. Open (Graham in ‘81 and Geoff Ogilvy last year), the PGA (Graham in ‘79, Wayne Grady in ‘90 and Elkington in ‘95), a bunch of British Opens (Thompson 5, Norman 2, Kel Nagle and Ian Baker-Finch). But Augusta National remains an unsolved mystery, if not a house of horrors.

At least the Australians have kept their sense of humor about it. Asked about his country’s “drought” at the Masters, Ogilvy cracks, “It’s actually not a drought because it’s never rained at all.

“But obviously, it’s a bit of an enigma, because it’s such a similar style of play [to courses back home like] Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath. You need the same kind of shots to play well here.”

Norman, great as he was, was never able to come up with those shots when he really needed them. (Had he been, his closet would be cluttered with green jackets, four at least.) And so, over the years, the Masters has become “for an Australian, probably the Holy Grail of golf right now” as Scott puts it. “It’s just so hard to qualify for. That’s what makes it the Holy Grail also. Just to get here is an achievement in itself. And the only major golf event that stays at the same venue every year, which adds to the mystique.”

The hopes of a nation now fall on him and Ogilvy. The latter made his big breakthrough last June at Winged Foot, winning the U.S. Open nobody else seemed to want. Scott is still looking for his first major, but he does have a victory in the 2004 Players Championship. And let’s not forget: He tied for ninth at Augusta as a 21-year-old, something not even the Shark did.

The past few years, though, Scott’s name hasn’t lingered long on Masters leader boards, which has made him wonder if he isn’t approaching this all wrong. Ogilvy tells him that, contrary to popular belief, majors are the easiest tournaments to win — if you can just keep from trying too hard. That might be why Scott hasn’t cracked the top 20 at Augusta since ‘02; he was convinced he had to do something “heroic.”

But after watching his buddy steal the Open, Scott has come to believe “it’s a matter of survival, almost. You don’t have to do anything that special for three days. You just have to hang around, and then Sunday is the day where you really find out what happens. It’s all about controlling your aggressiveness. That’s what Tiger does very well.”

Ogilvy figures an Australian will win the Masters sooner rather than later, if only because of sheer numbers. In Norman’s day, he says, “it was just Greg and [Baker-Finch]. But I really think there are five or six guys here [who have a legitimate shot]. Adam won last week [at Houston]. Stuart [Appleby, who tied for second] is obviously close. Robert [Allenby] has played great this year. [Aaron Baddeley] is playing great this year.”

When it happens, it will be one of the most memorable moments in Australian sports history. It will also enable us in the golf media to move on to our next Important Story: Why can’t a European win the U.S. Open?

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