Adam Scott's win captured a nation

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- His year-long reign as champion is about to come to an end, the green jacket that has traveled the world to be put in his own locker, never to be taken off the Augusta National grounds -- unless he wins again. Adam Scott begins his quest Thursday to add another Masters title to his résumé, with the hopes of bringing the symbol of victory on another journey.

But as the 78th Masters Tournament commences, it is quite possible to argue that no victory has been celebrated by its champion with as much joy and enthusiasm, while painstakingly trying to let as many as possible join in.

Scott's victory was the first in Masters history by an Australian, a feat reveled in by Aussies around the world. And if you want to see just how much it meant to the sport-mad country, all you need to do is look back a year ago to Augusta's 18th green.

There is the photo of Scott screaming, his right fist clenched, his left hand holding the long putter that had just stroked in a birdie putt that gave him the lead on the 72nd hole. The normally stoic Scott was amped, bellowing "C'mon Aussie!" as cheers enveloped the landscape.

But look past the noise, peer beyond the raindrops, take your eyes off Scott enjoying such a huge moment.

And there is Marc Leishman, pumping his fist.

He does so casually, quickly, signifying his satisfaction with the result he has just witnessed.

It is an amazing gesture, considering that Leishman was fighting for the same glory his countryman Scott was about to achieve. His chances had been all but swallowed up by the pond fronting the 15th green a short time earlier, but he still had a 3-foot putt of his own to make that would earn him a tie for fourth with Tiger Woods.

"It just blew me away seeing that picture," Scott said. "It's an incredible reaction by another competitor. I think that just goes to show you how much we all wanted an Aussie to win, no matter who it was. I think we all wanted it to be Greg [Norman] -- for Marc and I, in our age group, we all pulled for Greg so hard.

"And for a guy who was standing in the middle of the 15th fairway with as good a chance to win as me, to stand there on the 18th green and his dreams of winning were gone and someone else is ... it's an incredible gesture of sportsmanship. I've talked to Marc about it, and obviously no more needs to be said about what kind of guy Marc Leishman is after seeing a photo like that."

Norman, of course, is the most tormented of Aussie golfers. The Great White Shark nickname was first foisted upon him here in 1981, as he played in the Masters for the first time and was the first-round co-leader before finishing fourth.

Few outside of Australia knew Norman at the time, but he soon became a force in the game and a near-annual contender at Augusta National. From 1986 to 1992, he posted five top-six finishes, including two of the most heartbreaking runner-up finishes of his career -- the final-hole bogey to lose to Jack Nicklaus in '86, followed by Larry Mize's miraculous chip-in to beat him in a sudden-death playoff in '87.

But none topped the 1996 loss to Nick Faldo, the one where Norman led by six shots heading into the final round and ended up losing by five. Scott was 15 at the time, and woke up early on Monday morning in Australia to watch the final round. And he cried. "It was a huge blow to all of us back in Australia," Scott said.

Norman won the Open Championship twice, but never could prevail at Augusta National, despite an amazing eight top-five finishes. His struggles became something for future Australians to overcome, although there was also other heartbreak here from the likes of Jim Ferrier, Jack Newton, Bruce Crampton and even Jason Day, who has finished second and third in his three appearances.

That is why Scott's victory resonated so much.

"It was huge for golf," Norman, now 59, said recently when asked about Scott's victory. "Adam, Augusta, Australia and golf. Because we had not checked a box on winning the Masters as a major championship. So we checked that box. Finally Australia has produced the goods, and being in the position of world golf where we do produce the quality of players where we've won every major championship, and it's hugely important from our professional pride.

"And from Augusta National's standpoint, they have got an Australian flag as a winner, which is hugely important for them because they are trying to make it into an international event, which it really has been. Great for golf. It was fantastic theater. And obviously with Adam it was great for him."

Leishman, 30, has a single PGA Tour victory and was playing in the Masters last year for just the second time.

He held a share of the first-round lead with a 66 and was in the thick of the tournament before hitting his approach into the water at the par-5 15th. Scott birdied that hole and Day was still in contention, with Leishman basically seeing his chances end there, but still well within reach of his best finish in a major.

Once on the 18th green, Leishman knew what was at stake for Scott, who faced a 15-footer for birdie to take the lead. Leishman lagged a putt up toward the hole, with some work still to be done for his par.

And then he became a spectator.

"It was such a big moment for Australia, for Australian sport," Leishman said. "I had a good week myself. Scottie, obviously that was a life changer for him. It's a really good memory and I enjoy talking about it. I've had a lot of comments about the fist pump in the background and all that, and it was probably not really like me to do that. I rarely fist-pump my own putts. I think I just knew what it meant for Australia and for Scottie. It was just exciting. It's good to see a mate of yours do well.

"To execute it under the pressure he was under was a pretty big deal and it was great to see him do that. I had a 3-footer left and couldn't really feel my hand, it was just sort of ringing and all that. It was bright red. He just came over and he screamed "C'mon Aussie" in my face, when we sort of did that little high-five. It's great to look back on that, good memories that I'll have for the rest of my life."

It didn't take long for Scott to see the photo and for others to take notice.

"That's quintessential Australian right there," Norman said. "We're there for each other no matter what. That tells you that we care about our country and want to see fellow countrymen perform well and win that event if you can't win it all."

"I don't think there would have been an Australian standing still," said Stuart Appleby, who has played in 14 Masters, with his best finish seventh in 2007.

After Scott's birdie putt on the 18th, there was still golf ahead. He waited in the scoring area with Leishman as Angel Cabrera played up the last hole. Sure enough, the Argentine who had won the Masters in 2009 knocked his approach to a few feet, and then made the putt to force a sudden-death playoff that would begin on the 18th hole.

Leishman returned to his Augusta rental house and watched the playoff on TV. There he saw the two players remain tied after the 18th, and then head to the 10th, where Scott hit his approach to 12 feet, and then holed the winning birdie putt.

Another celebration ensued, but not just the one in the Augusta National gloaming.

Leishman ran around the house, pumping his fists, screaming with joy at Scott's victory.

Too bad a photographer didn't capture that moment as well.

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