Aussie Could Win at the Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- This year, an Aussie might finally don the green jacket. Too bad Greg Norman won't be around to see it.
 
Norman, long the standard for professional golfers in Australia, failed to qualify for the Masters for the second year in a row. He only played in 2002 because of a rare foreign invitation.
 
Norman has plans for this weekend, and like last year, they don't include watching the tournament.
 
'I'll be far away from a TV,' he said last week after missing the cut at the BellSouth Classic.
 
That's a pity, because one of his countrymen very well might win at Augusta National. Several are solid contenders, including Adam Scott, who won The Players Championship with a gritty bogey on the final hole.
 
He hooked a shot into the water, then drained a nervy 10-footer to hold off Padraig Harrington by one shot.
 
'That really put me on the map, so to speak,' Scott said Monday. 'Hopefully, I can back it up now.'
 
Scott hardly is the only challenger from Down Under.
 
Stuart Appleby won the Mercedes Championship, then blew a four-shot lead at Bay Hill. Craig Parry won at Doral. Peter Lonard, who has never won on the PGA Tour, finished fifth in the BellSouth, one of three Australians in the top five.
 
And the field includes U.S. Amateur champ Nick Flanagan, a blue-collar player who became the first Aussie in 100 years to win that title. He got a chance to play nine holes with Tiger Woods on Monday.
 
'It might have surprised some people to see three Aussies in the top five last week, but not me,' said another Aussie, Stephen Leaney. 'Lots of us grew up watching Greg play great golf, and we're getting our chance now.
 
'There's a lot of good golfers over there waiting for a chance.'
 
Could that chance at Augusta come this weekend? For now, Scott isn't worried about it.
 
'I really enjoy playing here, it suits my game,' he said. 'I just want to get settled in and get in good position for the weekend before I start thinking about winning.'
 
A victory here eluded Norman during his 22 straight appearances, and the memorable losses have been well documented.
 
In 1986, he fell apart as Jack Nicklaus rallied for his sixth title, and Larry Mize chipped in on the second playoff hole the next year to beat Norman.
 
But the most inglorious defeat came in 1996. He led by six shots at the start of the final round, yet lost by five. A stunning 78 that day - winner Nick Faldo carded a 67 - left Norman as the first player to lose a lead that big on the final day of a major.
 
Back in Australia, a 15-year-old Scott was watching on TV - or at least, trying to.
 
'It was hard to watch,' Scott said. 'I thought he had it in the bag, he was playing so well, totally in control. That's the way golf is. It really has to be your week to win one of these things.'
 
Scott came to Augusta for the first time in 2002, and to help get familiar with the course, he played a practice round with Norman. The day included several pointers from the veteran on spots on the course to avoid, if possible, and even how to get from the locker room to the first tee.
 
'He pointed me in the right direction,' Scott said.
 
He hardly needs the help now. This year, Augusta National is playing hard and fast for the first time since it was lengthened by some 300 yards two years ago. The rain that plagued the course isn't expected to return until after Sunday's final round, putting a premium skills around the green.
 
Scott feels ready for the challenge.
 
'It's very much down to the short game,' he said. 'You can get yourself in some tricky spots out there. Hopefully, the chipping will be right this week.'
 
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