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Players elicit full range of emotion in Australia

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SURFERS PARADISE, Australia – In the closing moments of what turned into a surprisingly tense final lap for Adam Scott at the Australian Masters, a large and boisterous group gathered in a dated clubhouse to cheer on their fellow Queenslander.

“C’mon, Aussie.”

If, as some contend, their Scotty solidified his place as Greg Norman’s equal with his victory at the other Masters in April, exit polling from those caught up in the moment at Surfers Paradise Golf Club on Sunday suggests the soft-spoken superstar is on pace to forge a new legacy beyond that of his idol.

Scott’s come-from-behind victory on Sunday at Royal Melbourne was, by his own assessment, “ugly,” and something of a gift considering that Matt Kuchar stepped to the 18th tee with a two-stroke lead and left with, well ... nothing.

“Even though it wasn’t the prettiest golf today, like I had played the first three, there was enough good stuff to keep me in there and I hit good shots coming down the stretch when I had to, and that is important stuff,” Scott said.

But as the prodigal son forges ahead to an unprecedented “Scotty Slam,” no one – at least no one in this corner of Australia – was interested in style points.

The Australian Masters triumph comes on the heels of Scott’s victory last week at the Australian PGA, which was played just up the coast from Surfers Paradise, about an hour from where Scott learned the game at Twin Waters Golf Club.

A victory this week paired with fellow Queenslander Jason Day at the World Cup followed by another Australian Open title in a fortnight in Sydney would give the world No. 2 an unprecedented four straight.

This isn’t the Grand Slam – with apologies to the faithful gathered at Surfers Paradise, the strength of the Australian fields is best described as suspect – but for a native son who was supposed to be savoring the rewards of a green jacket victory lap, his return has been transformed into a shopping spree.

Scott is collecting champions’ jackets at a pace that may require extra closet space when he finally puts 2013 behind him.

Sunday’s victory at Royal Melbourne was his second consecutive at the Australian Masters, joining Norman as the only player to successfully defend that title, and he added another gold jacket to the green one he never seems to want to take off and the pink one he won at the recent PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

Scott’s closing 71 may have been “ugly,” but for a nation normally caught up in the frenzy of the upcoming Ashes cricket matches with England, it was front-page news, a phenomenon that immediately drew comparisons to Norman in his prime.

“He has the same ability as Greg to transcend golf,” said Peter Claughton, one of Scott’s high school coaches growing up in Queensland who watched Sunday’s give and take from the crowded Surfers Paradise clubhouse. “Everything is there, the ability, the charisma, the sense of timing.”

Scott, however, has another legend caught in his crosshairs. Earlier in the week the normally soft-spoken Scott was asked if supplanting Tiger Woods atop the Official World Golf Ranking was on his agenda and he acknowledged in his own aloof way that it was.

“That comes with winning,” he said. “Right now Tiger is winning a lot, so that sort of dictates what I need to do.”

For the record, Scott now has four international victories, including the Masters, this season to Woods’ five PGA Tour tilts, and two more weeks to separate himself before his season ends. That might explain Scott’s emotion on the 72nd hole on Sunday. It wasn’t the unfiltered joy he demonstrated at Augusta National, but the significance of his victory, not to mention his impact on the game back home, was evident.

It was a fitting conclusion to an emotional week on the sand belt gem.

On Thursday, Jarrod Lyle put on an emotional show in his first event since beating leukemia for the second time. Lyle, who grew up about an hour from Royal Melbourne, opened with a tearful 72 and followed with a second-round 71 to exceed even his own expectations.

“It’s better than I thought it was going to be,” said Lyle, who struggled with fatigue and a rusty swing on Sunday and closed with a 79. “I came here not really thinking I was going to play four days to be honest. So to have three reasonable rounds and one shocker that’s golf.”

A large crowd that included his wife Briony and 20-month-old daughter Lusi gathered around the 18th green on Sunday to cheer Lyle to the finish and he finished the week the way it began – with tears.

This week’s World Cup will likely be just as emotional for Day, who learned last week that eight of his relatives, including his grandmother, died in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

“I am deeply saddened to confirm that multiple members of my family lost their lives (in Haiyan),” Day said in a statement. “We feel devastated for all who have been affected by this horrific tragedy.”

The news added another layer to an already emotional season in Australia. It was what drew the faithful to Surfers Paradise on Sunday – a champion returns, a comeback begins, a catastrophe cast a pall.