More Augusta heartache for Australia

By Julian Linden

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) – Australia’s long wait to win the Masters goes on as another year filled with hope and promise ended with yet another agonizing near miss.

Adam Scott and Jason Day shared second place at Augusta National Sunday, two shots behind South African winner Charl Schwartzel, while Australian Geoff Ogilvy tied for fourth, a further two shots back.

For a while at least, it looked like Australia’s Masters duck was about to end. As the challengers slowly dropped off, the numbers were starting to favor the Australians, who were launching a ferocious three-pronged attack.

All three were joint leaders at some stage and Scott held the outright lead with two holes to go but Schwartzel swept past them all with birdies at the last four holes.

There was a collective sense of disappointment for all the Australians but, unlike previous years when bad luck and bad play combined to thwart Australia’s bid to win the green jacket, there were no regrets this time.

“Obviously we fell short a little bit, but it just shows how good Australian golf is right now,” said Day. “We performed really, really well in the Masters this week so it was fantastic.”

Scott, who has won 19 professional tournaments including the Players Championship, closed with a five-under-par 67, the same score he shot Saturday, giving the 30-year-old his best finish at a major.

“I played well today and that’s all I could ask for. Obviously I can’t control Charl, and when you birdie the last four holes at the Masters and you’re around the lead, that usually wins,” Scott said. “There’s only positives to take out of this, there are no negatives at all.”

Day, who was appearing in his first Masters at age 23, was one of the revelations of the tournament. His 64 Friday was the best round of the championship and birdies at the final two holes Sunday left him tied for second.

‘MEMORY BANK’

Scott and Day, who went to the same school in Australia, were paired together in the final round and strolled up the 18th together like two friends having a weekend hit.

“I’ve had the best first Masters experience and this is going to go down for a long, long time in the memory bank. I’ve just had a blast,” Day said. “Everything that you expect Augusta National and the Masters Tournament itself, times that by a hundred, and you’ve got it.”

Ogilvy, who the U.S. Open in 2006, made five birdies in a row on the back nine to storm into contention before he ran out of holes and was left to cheer on his countrymen in the hope that Australia’s Masters drought was about to end.

“It’s been a big deal for Australia,” he said. “Especially since Greg (Norman) was getting close so many times, it became a big thing for Australia.

“I promise you there’s millions of people awake at the moment watching this. They’re pretty excited.”

CLOSE CALLS

For a country used to sporting success, the Masters has somehow managed to elude all of Australia’s best golfers since Jim Ferrier, the 1947 PGA Champion, blew a three-shot lead with six holes to play at Augusta National in 1950.

Peter Thomson won the British Open five times in the 1950s and 1960s but his best result at the Masters was fifth place in 1957. Then came Norman, whose cruel close calls at Augusta became torturous viewing for Australians.

Norman finished runner-up in 1986, bogeying the last hole to miss out on a playoff with a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus. A year later, he was beaten in a playoff by Larry Mize, who holed out from a bunker, but his darkest moment was yet to come.

In 1996, Norman led by six shots heading into the final round but crumbled to shoot a 78 and finish second again.

But rather than deflate Australia’s love of the Masters, those close shaves have only spurred Australia’s new generation of golfers to get their hands on the winner’s green jacket.

Scott and Day both took phone calls from Norman straight after walking off the green Sunday and he immediately told them he was certain Australia’s long wait was about to end.

“He’s very proud of what we did out there and how we played. I don’t think there’s going to be a drought for too long,” Day said.

“I think Australian golf is right where it needs to be, and there’s a lot of young, good Australian golfers coming up right now through the ranks. One of us is going to win that green jacket one day.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

More Augusta heartache for Australia