Aussies raising their golf profile at the Masters

04/08/2014 5:53 PM

02/03/2015 4:12 PM

It’s probably too soon to tell if Adam Scott’s victory in the 2013 Masters has transformed the sport of golf in Australia.

But another sign that the Aussies are coming on fast is what’s been happening even more recently on the PGA Tour, where three of the past four tournaments have gone to Australian players: John Senden at the Valspar Open, Steven Bowditch at the Texas Open and Matt Jones at the Houston Open.

Paying close attention was Scott, who plays a streamlined schedule these days so he can focus on the majors, as he did last year when his playoff victory in Augusta against Angel Cabrera in the rain set off celebrations Down Under. While a victory at Palm Harbor, Fla., San Antonio or Houston might not equal Scott’s at Augusta, they’re all meaningful to the Aussies.

“It just gives them a bit of belief that it can happen and that they can do it as well,” said Scott, the world’s second-ranked player. “The last few weeks on the tour have been incredible watching all the guys win and pick up spots (at Augusta). So the Australia contingent is strong.”

Jones and Bowditch will be playing in their first Masters, which will begin Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. Five more Aussies are in the field: Scott, Senden, Jason Day, Marc Leishman and amateur Oliver Goss.

“Going back last year after Scotty won, it was very inspiring for a lot of golfers that are on the Tour to kick their game up another level,” said Day, who finished third last year behind Scott and Cabrera.

Before Scott broke through in 2013, the Masters had always been just out of the grasp of Australia’s best golfers. Scott and Day came close in 2011, holding the clubhouse lead until Charl Schwartzel overtook them. Most famous, of course, are the woes of Greg Norman at Augusta.

Three times he came close, three times he failed – perhaps most notably in 1996 when he lost a six-stroke lead after 54 holes and lost (by five strokes) to Nick Faldo.

Scott’s victory – he beat Cabrera on the second playoff hole – has at least begun to move the needle of Australian golf.

“Since Adam won, Australia’s been pretty abuzz about golf,” said Jones, who chipped in on the first playoff hole to win at Houston. “What he did for the Australian golf community is pretty great. I think a lot of Australian golfers fed off that.”

Whether it had a direct effect on the recent string of Aussie victories on the PGA Tour can be argued. But the influence of Scott and his countrymen on the international pro game is now indisputable.

“We’re a close-knit group of guys out there from Australia,” said Scott. “It’s motivation for all of us. To see someone else doing well is maybe a kick in the pants to keep pushing you along. I definitely have that feeling myself, seeing other guys be successful out there.”

The Australian players, most of whom grew up playing with and against each other in junior golf and on the Australian tour, seek each other out in the locker room and on the practice range.

“It’s good to see familiar faces,” said Day. “(The Masters) is the biggest tournament of the year, so we all kind of stick together.”

Day is as close as any of the Aussies to already being Scott’s equal. Ranked third in the world, he can vault to No. 1 with a win at Augusta. Scott can take over the top spot with at least a two-way tie for third.

“I’m trying not to think of that,” said Day, who tied for second at the Masters in 2011. “I can’t get to No. 1 if I don’t win, so my biggest thing is to focus on myself and go out and think about the outcomes that could possibly happen. If I … get caught up in stuff, that can make my game go backward.”

Day, 26, is seven years younger than Scott. This is just his fourth Masters, whereas Scott has played in 12.

“I always wanted to be the first Australian to win it,” said Day. “Obviously, Scotty got there first. But I’m happy to be the second.”

 

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