Cabrera's sportsmanship to Scott began years ago

Adam Scott receives a thumbs-up from Angel Cabrera after sinking a birdie putt to win the 2013 Masters.

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— Angel Cabrera’s thumbs-up to Adam Scott was a highly-visible display of sportsmanship on the second hole of their Masters playoff. It may have been less important than a private moment they had shared more than three years earlier.

As Scott, in the midst of a prolonged slump, left the 2009 Presidents Cup, Cabrera pulled him aside and said, “You’re a great, great player.” Scott arrived at San Francisco’s Harding Park as the world’s 65th-ranked player. He went 1-4; Scott and Cabrera lost, 2 down, to Anthony Kim and Jim Furyk. Yet Cabrera's words allowed Scott to leave with his head held high.

“Something I didn’t forget,” Scott said. “He’s a gentleman.”

That year was the worst of Scott’s career. He had a runner-up in his second event, the Sony Open, but made just five of his last 15 cuts, never finishing in the top 25. Greg Norman still took a chance on Scott, selecting him as a captain’s pick. Norman, an icon in Scott’s home country, hoped Scott’s inclusion on the team would inspire a return to form. It did. He won at the 2010 Valero Texas Open.

“That was a big moment for me,” Scott said of the 2009 Presidents Cup. “It was kind of gut-check time. What that did was automatically put me into a world-class situation. . . . There’s no hiding in a Presidents Cup. You have to go out there and you’re playing against the best players in the world, and I used that as a real motivator, and also a way to make myself believe that I’m a great player again.

“If you don’t have that opportunity, sometimes it’s very hard to play yourself out of a rut back up to the top of the leaderboard in a tournament. But I got put in that situation of pressure all over again, and I needed that. I took the ball from there and ran with it.”

The apex of anyone’s career is preceded by struggle, and the same can be said for Scott, even though he looks like he has it all. Scott’s Masters victory is much like the 2011 U.S. Open title that Rory McIlroy won after his final-round 80 at Augusta National. Scott had more time between experiencing the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, but he tasted both.

He bogeyed the last four holes at last year’s Open Championship to lose to Ernie Els by a shot. Scott didn’t mourn his loss at the Open Championship. He used it for motivation. “It did give me more belief that I could win a major,” he said. “It proved to me, in fact, that I could.” His Masters win, his first career major title, came in Scott’s second major after that loss.

Cabrera hugged Scott after it was over and told him, “That I was happy for him; that I know that he deserved it, and that he was going to eventually win it like he did right now. It was just a matter of time.”

Scott’s growth is best illustrated by the contrast in his 72nd-hole performance in those two events. His 7-foot par putt to tie Els at Lytham was weak, missing on the low side. At Augusta National, Scott poured in a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Then he clinched victory by holing a 12-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole.

It was after Scott had “feathered” a 6-iron to 12 feet on that hole that Cabrera flashed a thumbs-up to Scott. With darkness quickly coming, Scott knew, “This is a good one to make.”

It was indeed.

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