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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Newly-crowned Masters champion Adam Scott will win more majors than any other Australian, according to compatriot Greg Norman, who famously missed out on the famed green jacket three times.
Scott ended Australia's long wait for an Augusta winner on Sunday when he nervelessly sunk a 15-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to beat Argentine Angel Cabrera in a playoff and capture his first major championship.
"Everybody questioned whether he could do it. We all knew it. The players know it," former world number one Norman said in comments posted on the PGA Tour's Twitter feed.
"I think he'll go on and win more majors than any other Australian golfer."
Norman's bullish forecast sets a huge challenge for 32-year-old Scott, who would have to clinch another seven to surpass Karrie Webb, a seven-time major winner on the women's tour.
The leading Australian men's major winner is Peter Thomson, who captured five British Open titles from 1954-65.
The 58-year-old Norman, dubbed the "Great White Shark", clinched two British Open trophies in a sparkling career but tasted only disappointment in the American majors.
Norman's near-misses at the Masters were particularly gruelling. He finished runner-up in 1986, bogeying the last hole to miss out on a playoff with a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus and a year later was beaten in a playoff by Larry Mize, who chipped in to win.
Norman's third chance in 1996 became etched in Australian folklore as one of the greatest sporting 'chokes' of all time when he blew a six-shot lead heading into the final round to crumble to a 78 and finish second again.
Scott, Australia's first major winner since Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open, watched Norman's triumphs and heartaches with fascination as a junior and enjoyed huge backing from his hero throughout the highs and lows of his own career.
"(Norman) was the best player in the world and he was an icon in Australia," Scott told reporters in Augusta, paying tribute to his long-time mentor. "Everything about the way he handled himself was incredible to have as a role model.
"Most of us would feel that he could have slipped a green jacket on, for sure, and I said part of this is for him because he's given me so much time and inspiration and belief.
"I drew on that a lot today.
"Hopefully at some point I'll get to sit down with Greg and have a chat and go through it all ... A phone conversation isn't going to do it for us. We are really close, and I'd love to share a beer with him over this one."
Since turning professional as a teenager and winning his first title in South Africa in 2001, Scott had long been seen in his home country as heir to Norman, but raised less flattering comparisons at last year's British Open.
Australians relived grim memories of Norman's 1996 Augusta nightmare when they saw Scott blow a four-stroke lead at Lytham with bogeys on his last four holes to gift Ernie Els the Claret Jug.
The nation held its breath early on Monday morning Down Under as news filtered through that Scott had been taken into a playoff by Cabrera.
The out-pouring of joy and relief after the winning putt was overwhelming.
Dale Durant, chief executive of Scott's home golf course at Sanctuary Cove, in Australia's tropical Queensland state, told Australian media that the streets of the resort town had been deserted during the run-up to Scott's win, with everyone inside watching the drama unfold.
"It is just unbelievable. It is just the greatest three holes of his life," Durant said of Scott's nerveless finish.
Ogilvy, who won his 2006 U.S. Open when his nearest challengers stumbled on their last hole, captured the national mood in a post on his Twitter account.
"I reckon it's time for a beer," he tweeted.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Rob Taylor in Canberra; Editing by Patrick Johnston)