Odds never better for the Aussies at Masters
Down Under golfers Adam Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman poised near top of leaderboard
AUGUSTA, GA. — The odds, Adam Scott said, have never been better for an Aussie to win the Masters ... “except for that one year, ’96.”
The year Greg Norman’s six-shot lead on Saturday night was a five-shot loss by sunset on Sunday, he meant. The year that all of Australia cringed, and cried, and could no more avert its gaze than a gawker can keep from rubbernecking at the scene of a car accident.
Oh, there was the time, two years ago, when Scott and Jason Day shot 67 and 68, respectively, in the final round to tie for second behind Charl Schwartzel ... but they had come from well back that day.
This time, with 18 holes to play, the elegant Scott sits third — one shot behind co-leaders Angel Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker, who shot matching 69s Saturday — while his compatriots Day and Marc Leishman are tied for fourth, another stroke back.
One of these days, surely, it will happen for Oz.
“Look, Aussies are a proud sporting nation, and we’d love to put another notch in our belt just like any country would,” said Scott, whose broomstick putter, if he were to win, no doubt would light a fresh fire under the anchoring debate.
But nothing would make any one of them happier than never to have to answer another question about the Augusta National curse on Aussies, who have finished second or tied for second eight times.
“It’s just a fact,” Scott acknowledged. “You can’t not deal with it. We’ve got another great chance, so there’s no better time (than Sunday) to never have to deal with that question again. Three of us up there. Going to be a helluva round tomorrow.”
It’s big ask, though.
At the top sits the easygoing Cabrera, the 2009 Masters (and 2007 U.S. Open) winner, who ambles through a round as though he’s just out to smell the flowers — and alongside him is the other end of the emotional spectrum: the hyperactive Snedeker, who was the hottest player on earth at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, until a rib injury cost him a month and forced him to start over.
“It’s been two seasons, I guess. I had to start pretty much from scratch again,” said the blond, 32-year-old from Nashville. “But my short game’s in really good shape, and I’m fresh, mentally and physically.
“I’ve spent 32 years of my life waiting for tomorrow. I’m 100% sure I’m ready for whatever happens. I’m not here to finish second, not here to finish top-five. I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t win tomorrow.”
Cabrera, though, may have something to say about that.
Since getting through a couple of injury-plagued years, the big Argentine known as El Paso (The Duck) is the only major winner on the first page of the leaderboard ... other than you-know-who, Tiger Woods, who managed to get himself to within four strokes of the lead despite a so-so round of 70 and is tied for seventh at three-under-par with Tim Clark (67), one stroke behind Matt Kuchar (69), two behind Day (73) and Leishman (72), each of whom led or shared the lead at one point Saturday.
Day led as late as the 16th hole, but bogeyed the 17th and 18th. Cabrera, meanwhile, birdied 18 to get into the final pairing.
“I think it’s important to make that birdie, but for my confidence it’s good to be in that last group,” said Cabrera, through an interpreter. “In 2009, I was nervous, anxious (heading into the final round), but now I’m very comfortable, I know what I have to do tomorrow to get the win.
“I don’t think it’s a big advantage that I’ve won before. I think tomorrow is more about execution and patience. There is not a lot of margin for error.”
Both Snedeker, who lost to Trevor Immelman in heartbreaking fashion here in 2008 — shooting 77 in the final round — and Scott, who bogeyed the last four holes to lose last summer’s Open Championship to Ernie Els, know about the bitter taste of defeat.
Now they have to prove they know how to win.
“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008, none. No game plan, no idea when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, how to play this golf course,” said Snedeker. “I’ve got to drive the ball well, if I do that and play the par-5s well, I’m going to have a really good day.”
“I don’t really think I need to do too much different. If I’m in the same position tomorrow (as at the Open), it’ll mean I’m playing an incredible round, and I just need to finish the job.
“It’s going to take a great round tomorrow, there’s too many great players right there, and I know someone else is going to play great.”
The leaders got an unexpected bonus — though not as large a bonus as it might have been — when Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty (but not disqualified) for an improper drop at the 15th hole Friday, meaning he began the day five strokes behind Day, the 36-hole leader, rather than only three.
But once again, the front-runners didn’t run away very far.
Despite a fine, warm, relatively calm day, Augusta National wasn’t giving anything up easily, the lead only moving from six-under to seven.
“It was a very quiet day out there. Not a whole lot of roars,” said Snedeker, who began his round with 12 straight pars. “I don’t care what you say, that’s a heck of a way to start a round here. It might not be tomorrow, but it was today. ‘What this course does is make you want to go after pins you shouldn’t go after.”
Woods fought his way back in, despite a pretty ordinary, even-par front nine, with birdies at 12, 13 and 15, where he barely missed a 12-footer for eagle from under the hole that would have put him in a tie for fourth. If the shot at No. 15 Friday that hit the pin and bounced back into the water hadn’t, effectively, cost him four strokes, he would be tied for the lead.
Still, a round of 70, sitting four back, was a mark of how much margin for error there is in Woods’s game compared to anyone else’s — and why he can’t be written off.
His near-disqualification, eventually a two-stroke penalty “was certainly a distraction early, but it’s like anything, you move on,” said Woods. “I was ready to play come game time.”
Asked if he deserved the two strokes, he said: “Absolutely. I made a mistake.”
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