APRIL 17 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
I love vindication stories.
When Adam Scott nailed that 12-foot putt on the second playoff hole to win the Masters golf tournament Sunday, it was more than just seeing a rising star get the biggest win of his career. It was vindication.
You may recall that it was Scott, in last year’s British Open, who had a four-shot lead with just four holes to play. It was the kind of lead no professional golfer should let slip away. And yet, he did. He bogeyed the last four holes, and basically handed the title to Ernie Els.
I love those times when a pro or college athlete is able to erase a bad situation by getting the big win, as Scott did Sunday.
It reminds me of Jana Novotna, a female tennis player whose heyday was in the 1990s.
Those were the days when Steffi Graf dominated women’s tennis. Any time she lost in a major tournament, it was a huge surprise. In 1993, it looked like Wimbledon was going to produce just one of those surprises.
Novotna had lost the first set to Graf, but then dominated her in winning the second set 6-1. In the third set, Novotna pulled to a 4-1 lead, and seemed certain to pull off a monumental upset. I had forgotten this, but an Internet search reminded me that Novotna was actually one point away from taking a 5-1 lead.
Instead, she absolutely collapsed. She started making mistakes, Graf’s confidence was rebuilt, and before long Graf had rallied to win that third set.
Then, in a famous scene from one of Wimbledon’s post-tournament ceremonies, Novotna broke into tears on the shoulder of Katharine, Duchess of Kent, as the burden of having let this great opportunity slip away finally got the best of her.
It took five years, but Novotna received her vindication. In 1998, she made it to the Wimbledon final again, and this time she won it, in two sets.
It doesn’t always work that way, of course. In 1996, Greg Norman saw a six-shot lead heading into Sunday evaporate quickly in a loss to Nick Faldo in the 1996 Masters, and never got another chance. Jean Van de Velde needed only a six on the par-4 final hole of the 1999 British Open to win the title, and scored a triple bogey 7 to finish in a three-way tie. He then lost the playoff. Have you heard of him since?
My least favorite of these was the 1997 British Open. I had Jesper Parnevik in an office pool we had organized, and was looking good to win $30 as Parnevik went into Sunday with a three-shot lead. Then Justin Leonard had the round of his life to steal the win away from Parnevik, and leave me out of the money. In a small way, I haven’t forgiven either one of them.
But for Adam Scott, it worked out. He won a playoff over Angel Cabrera to stamp himself as a champion of a major, and push the delete button on last year’s British Open.
Good for him. And good for sports in general.