AUGUSTA, Ga. – Red Sox nation and that former curse of the Bambino have nothing on Oz.
Any athletic endeavor worth winning and every other major championship has been brought home to Australia save a green jacket. But this is more than just a missing trophy from the national mantel. This is personal. This is painful.
The iconic yellow Masters flag has been a dagger in the Australian heart for generations.
Back home they call it the “Aussie duck,” a cricket term for zero, zip, nada, bupkis, as in Australia is 0-for-74 on the grounds of the former nursery. That’s the score for Australia at the Masters. That’s the 600-pound gorilla that drives young boys to miss school on Monday to watch the season’s first major.
“No one here is thinking there’s a voodoo on us from Australia,” Adam Scott said. He does believe it. Everyone from Down Under does. Call it a collective case of selective memory.
This is about more than just a drought at a golf tournament. This is a dark hole in a national resume that is pot-marked with debilitating losses.
Some think it started with Greg Norman and his love-hate history at Augusta National, but the pain reaches back much further. All the way back to “Big Jim” Ferrier, who took a 2-up advantage into the final turn at the 1950 Masters, limped around in 75 strokes and watched Australia’s green jacket go to Jimmy Demaret.
Consider Mize and Faldo public enemy Nos. 1 and 2 back in Oz.
From there Australia virtually fell off the Masters map. Stuart Appleby has made the only meaningful run for heart and home, taking a lead into the final round in 2007 only to sign for a 75 and watch Zach Johnson don green.
Johnson, you’re dead to them, too.
But on a sweltering Saturday the Australian fortunes seemed to turn.
First came Scott – who showed so much promise in his first Masters, a tie for ninth in 2002, but didn’t post a top-10 in his next eight attempts – who rode his new long putter to a front-nine 33. Although he bogeyed the last, Scott finished with 67 and is tied for sixth place and five strokes behind front-runner Rory McIlroy.
Geoff Ogilvy was next, limping out in 39 strokes but rallying on the second nine to salvage a 73 and a tie for ninth place.
Jason Day, however, may be Australia’s best hope on Sunday. Following birdies at Nos. 2, 3 and 5 the 23-year-old edged into a Grand Slam lead for the first time in his young career.
On Thursday, Day noted he wanted the Masters masses to yell his name like that of playing companion McIlroy. For much of his front nine they wouldn’t stop.
“We’re walking up (No. 6) and he looks at the leaderboard and says, ‘Holy crap, I’m leading.’” Day’s caddie Col Swatton said.
Holy crap, indeed.
Day didn’t hold onto the top spot, undone by bogeys at Nos. 6, 7, 13 and 16, but he finished with 72 and at 8 under represents the closest thing Oz has had to a legitimate shot at Augusta National since . . . well, Norman.
Not that Day or any of the Australian hopefuls had much interest in revisiting the Shark’s career at Augusta National.
“I think there was almost tears at home that day,” Scott said of the 1996 Masters. “I can’t tell you how big of an inspiration he’s been and a hero he’s been to all of the golfers at home my age.”
For Scott & Co. the Shark’s shadow hangs over Augusta National like a reoccurring storm, or nightmare.
Day may be too young to remember the pain first hand but it’s bred into Australia’s collective DNA. Norman was more than just a golfer or sportsman, he was a national hero humbled to the extreme on a golf course Ogilvy calls “Royal Melbourne with greener grass.”
“This is the one every Australian wants to win, without question,” said Dale Lynch, Ogilvy’s swing coach. “A lot of these guys were kids when Norman was at his prime, so there’s some pain there.”
And now there’s a reason to be optimistic thanks to a leaderboard that features three dark blue flags amassed in the top 10. If a nation’s optimism is misplaced it is at least partially justified by the odds.
When Norman was making Masters misery he stood alone against the world. Day has company, Ogilvy with his U.S. Open pedigree, Scott with a belly putter that has rejuvenated the one-time prodigy.
Scott was 8 years old in ’87 when Mize gutted Norman and his mother let him stay home from school on Monday to watch the final round. “I’m not promoting skipping school,” he laughed.
If an Aussie finally cracks Augusta National’s grass ceiling, 8-year-olds across Oz won’t have to make the choice – the day will be declared a national holiday, or a mental health day.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard