By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Having once again come agonisingly close to landing a first major crown, Jason Day took some solace as he watched fellow Australian Adam Scott seal a maiden win at the highest level on Sunday.
The two compatriots had duelled for the Masters title with Angel Cabrera for most of the final round at a rain-soaked Augusta National but it was Scott who emerged triumphant after he edged out the burly Argentine in a playoff.
Day, joint runner-up with Scott at the 2011 Masters on his debut at the year's opening major, had briefly moved two strokes clear of the field in Sunday's final round but his challenge effectively ended with bogeys at the 16th and 17th.
"It's unfortunate, but I'm very happy with how things are going right now with Adam," Day told reporters before Scott became the first ever Australian to slip into the coveted green jacket.
"I'm really pulling for Scotty, I know that he's come so close so many times in majors and he really does deserve it. He's worked very, very hard and he's had a great career. I'm really praying that he pulls through."
Day's prayers were answered as Scott ended half a century of Australian Masters misery when he sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to deny Cabrera a third major title.
Yet it was richly talented Day who had initially seemed the most likely player to end Australia's lengthy title drought at Augusta National when he made a sensational birdie-eagle start to the final round.
He holed a slick 20-footer at the par-four first before holing out from a greenside bunker to eagle the par-five second, loud roars from the fans echoing through the Georgian pines as he moved briefly into the outright lead.
Though Day was overtaken by Cabrera, the Australian reignited after the turn - a run of three consecutive birdies from the par-five 13th putting him two shots ahead at nine under.
As the rain intensified, Day succumbed to the mounting pressure, overhitting the green from the tee to bogey the par-three 16th, then dropping another shot at the 17th where he bunkered his approach.
"On 16, unfortunately I hit it too far left and I had a quick bogey there," said the 25-year-old Queenslander, whose only PGA Tour win came at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship.
"And then on 17 I only had to go an extra foot to two feet and it would have been over that bunker. I think it would have kicked up to about 15, 20 feet at least.
"It's a little disappointing, but there's a lot of experience that I can take into next year. It was just a few little mental errors here and there, but overall I'm very, very happy about the way I played."
Day, who was greeted by his wife Ellie after he completed his round before cradling his young son Dash in his arms, has long described the Masters as his favourite event.
"I love this tournament," he smiled. "It's obviously an honour to come this week and play against the best players in the world, have a shot at winning my first major and being the first Australian to win the Masters.
"Hopefully I can wear one of those green jackets soon."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)