Wild week delivers at Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Women in green jackets welcomed a Chinese eighth-grader wielding a belly putter to a place unfamiliar with such sights: a sure sign that this promised to be an unusual week at Augusta National.

It delivered more than that.

Adam Scott's playoff victory over Angel Cabrera on Sunday meant a long overdue victory and agonizing end to Australian frustrations at the Masters, and perhaps Bloomin' Onions for everyone at next year's Champions Dinner.

Sorry, true Aussies aren't big fans of the American restaurant chain, but surely they will forgive the quip Down Under.

They love their golf in Australia, and have been heartbroken at the near-misses of their mates on this glorious stage, none more prominent than Greg Norman, who three times suffered excruciating defeats here.

"He inspired a nation of golfers,'' said Scott, tearing up at the mention of a mentor to many Aussie golfers. "Most of us would feel that he could have slipped a green jacket on for sure.''

Of course, there would be links to the past.

Steve Williams, Scott's caddie, once worked for the Shark, and he played a key role Sunday, helping with the 10th-hole playoff read in near darkness, telling Scott to play more break on what would be the winning putt.

Williams was Tiger Woods' longtime caddie, and was on the bag three times for victories here. The last came in 2005, a long eight years ago for Woods, who came up four strokes short and posted his seventh top-six finish since last winning.

Woods obviously contributed to the week's drama, facing disqualification after a rules violation that ended up resulting in a two-stroke penalty. He came here ranked No. 1 in the world and with more confidence in years after two recent victories.

But he didn't hit enough greens (47 of 72) and needed 116 putts, far off his success rate at Doral and Bay Hill. To his credit, Woods didn't lament the two-stroke penalty or the drama that surrounded it.

"We could do a "what-if' on every tournament we lose,'' Woods said. "We lose more tournaments than we win. But I certainly had my opportunities to post some good rounds this week.''

Woods was fortunate to be around after the Masters invoked a rarely-used rule that basically wiped out disqualification. That same committee also handed out what is believed to be the first slow-play penalty involving strokes in Masters history -- to Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old from China who earned low amateur honors and broke 80 every day, despite doubts he could do it even once.

Masters officials were very proud of the fact that the Asian-Pacific Amateur Championship they helped get started produced a Chinese player who brought plenty of attention. Then they nearly bounced him from the tournament with a one-stroke penalty for slow play, the whole place hoping and praying he'd survive for the weekend.

He did, and should be commended for his composure -- and for avoiding the kind of blunders that plagued the defending champion, Bubba Watson, who teed off first on Saturday and on Sunday was seen depositing several golf balls into Rae's Creek. He made a 10 on the par-3 12th hole, then quipped, "If you can't win, you've got to make history somehow.''

Guan also didn't shoot as high as the 82 recorded by Keegan Bradley on Saturday, and he was in the neighborhood of Phil Mickelson's 77. And he certainly had a better time than Sergio Garcia, who took the first-round lead with a 66, then told the world that Augusta National "isn't my favorite place.''

On cue, Garcia came back with a 76 the next day, but shot a final-round 70 for a back-door top 10, his 18th in a major without winning one.

And then there was Cabrera, who was trying to win on the 90th birthday of Argentina's greatest golfer, Robert de Vicenzo. It was 45 years ago this week that de Vicenzo suffered the cruelest of rules violations, signing an incorrect scorecard that cost him a spot in a playoff with Bob Goalby.

Cabrera, amazingly, was looking to win his third major championship -- having won no other tournaments on the PGA Tour, having posted no top 10s in the past two years and having not won on the European Tour since prior to his U.S. Open victory in 2007.

A 43-year-old grandfather, Cabrera would not go away, rebounding from a ball in the water at the 13th hole to make birdies at the 16th and 18th, the latter the result of a clutch shot, knowing that Scott had birdied in front of him.

In the playoff, Cabrera nearly holed his chip shot at the 18th, and then nearly holed his birdie putt on the 10th. He hardly gave away the tournament, beaten instead by Scott, who led a contingent of Aussies including Jason Day and Marc Leishman down the stretch.

The country's inability to win here had become something of a sore spot, Norman's heartbreaks cited at every instance, and clearly the reason Scott, 32, got emotional talking about it.

"It's amazing that it's my destiny to be the first Aussie to win, just incredible,'' Scott said.

And perhaps fitting, given his excruciating loss at the Open Championship last summer at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Scott seemingly had the tournament won with four holes to play, then bogeyed them all while Ernie Els birdied the last to steal the Claret Jug.

There was clearly tension between Scott and Williams coming down the stretch of that tournament, disagreements over club selection among them. Williams was used to seeing his man, Woods, close the deal in such situations. The fact that Scott -- long regarded as one of the game's best players -- did not was a stinging indictment.

But he erased that stigma Sunday, staying patient through 12 holes, then birdieing three of the last six for a final-round 69, followed by the clutch putt in the playoff.

The week that began with Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore wearing green jackets as the first women members at Augusta National ended with Adam Scott getting groomed for one as well.

A fitting -- and popular -- conclusion to a crazy first major championship of 2013.