AUGUSTA, Ga. – Adam Scott wasn't just in a swoon. He was in an absolute free-fall.
It was September 2009, and Scott was in the midst of the worst stretch of his professional career. He'd seen his world ranking drop from 3rd after the 2008 U.S. Open to 53rd. He'd missed cuts in 10 of his last 14 events and in four of the pri five majors. He'd broken up with a longtime girlfriend and had made some dubious business decisions, like the purchase of a Gulfstream G450 jet.
Fellow Australian Greg Norman knew all this and still selected Scott for the 2009 Presidents Cup team.
Norman came under withering criticism for picking the underachieving Scott, criticism which served to motivate Scott that much more.
[Related video: Cabrera, Scott talk about dramatic Masters playoff]
"It was kind of a gut-check time," Scott said on Sunday evening. "My game was in a bit of a rut, to be fair, and I wasn't enjoying it. But Greg as the captain had a lot of faith in me, and belief that I could win a point for his team, and he gave me a pick, and I didn't want to disappoint him."
What Norman would do in 2009 would contribute, more than three years later, to one of the most dramatic playoffs in golf history. Scott was radioactive, playing so badly that he was almost contagious. So Norman connected him with someone whom he thought could help steady Scott's nerves and game: the then-reigning Masters champion, Angel Cabrera.
"Nobody wanted to play with Adam [in the Presidents Cup]," recalled Charlie Epps, Cabrera's swing coach. "Angel said, ‘I'll play with him.' " Standing in the light of the Augusta National clubhouse Sunday immediately after Scott's Masters victory – winning in a two-hole playoff against … Cabrera – Epps smiled at the memory – and the irony.
[Related: Scott, Cabrera save the Masters]
"That was Greg's decision, and it was a good one," Epps said. "Greg had faith in Adam. It was the start of a great relationship [with Cabrera]."
Scott and Cabrera would lose the only match they played together, but they weren't alone. Norman's International Team would lose to Fred Couples' United States team 19½ to 14½.
Still, Cabrera and Scott got along well, and at one point, Cabrera pulled Scott aside and told him, "You're a great, great player." On Sunday night, wearing the green jacket, Scott nodded at the memory. "Something I didn't forget," he said, "and really nice of him."
Perhaps it's a coincidence, perhaps not, but Scott's career turned around after that Presidents Cup, first slowly and then with avalanche speed. He missed only one cut in the 2010 majors. He notched two top-10s in the 2011 majors, including a runner-up in the Masters. And he appeared headed for his breakthrough victory at the Open Championship in Royal Lytham last year before falling apart in the last four holes. And now, a green jacket.
Cabrera's warmth and generosity toward Scott even extended to their playoff. As they were walking down the 10th fairway, playing their second playoff hole, likely as tense a moment as either man had ever experienced, Cabrera looked out from under his umbrella and gave Scott a thumbs-up. It's not a gesture many other golfers would have done for a rival.
[Related video: Controversial putter a game-changer for Adam Scott]
"Angel is a great man," Scott said. "To do that at that point is very nice. I think, with limited abilities to converse, you know, we would consider each other friends and have a lot of respect for each other."
Just minutes after Cabrera gave Scott the thumbs-up, Scott's birdie putt on the second playoff hole dropped into the hole. Cabrera embraced Scott, later saying he told Scott how happy he was for him, and how much Scott deserved this moment.
"Unfortunately in playoffs, it's one-on-one, head to head," Cabrera said afterward. "And there's got to be only one winner, and he was able to win."
If Cabrera's able to take comfort from this loss at all, it's that he can take at least some small measure of credit for Scott's success. That's not nearly as good as a green jacket, true, but in a game that prizes sportsmanship, it's essential nonetheless.
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