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Schwartzel Shocks World En Route to Masters Win

Johnie Freatman |
April 11, 2011 | 11:17 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Charl Schwartzel celebrates his first Masters win. (via Facebook)
Charl Schwartzel celebrates his first Masters win. (via Facebook)
Entering the week, Charl Schwartzel was a name known only by serious golf fans.

As he basked in the Sunday evening glow with the green jacket draped around his shoulders, though, Schwartzel could be content knowing what he did will be forever remembered in Masters lore.

Schwartzel birdied the last four holes at Augusta National to win the 75th Masters by two strokes in one of the wildest Sundays in Masters memory, one that included roars, agonizing collapses, a free-for-all back nine, and the clutch putting of a 26-year-old South African.

Though it’s commonly said that the Masters doesn’t truly “begin” until the back nine on Sunday, the thrills started early this year.

Tiger Woods got the patrons on their feet with a magical front-nine 31, punctuated by a fist-pump eagle on the par-5 eighth hole that set the course abuzz.

As great as Schwartzel’s finish was, his start was just as thrilling. Left with a nearly impossible chip on the first hole, he did the improbable and chipped in. On the third hole, he did one better and holed his approach shot from outside of 100 yards for a rare eagle on the par four.

The ensuing crowd around the lead was made possible by the demise of Rory McIlroy. The 21-year-old had looked unflappable all week long in building a four-shot lead through 54 holes. The pressure clearly got to his young nerves though. He missed short putts on one and five to lose his stranglehold on the lead.

The nightmare only continued with a back nine 43 for McIlroy, which included playing holes 10-12 in six over par. He went on to shoot 80 -- the second-highest score for a third round leader in Masters history.

McIlroy exuded class afterwards, though, accommodating every interview request. A Twitter post from McIlroy read in part, “Found it tough going, but you have to lose before you can win. This day will make me stronger."

Many other players were able to make birdies and move toward the lead.

At multiple points during the action, five players were tied for the lead. By the end of the day, eight players had once held at least a share of the lead. The action was frenetic and players could only keep track of who was ahead by way of the ever-changing leaderboard.

“Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard,” Schwartzel said.

Woods’ putting prevented him from electrifying the crowd more so than he did. Entering the back nine with a share of the lead, he missed a short par putt on 12 to drop back to nine under. After hitting an amazing approach shot to 15 within five feet of eagle, he failed to convert the golden opportunity.

Woods followed the 31 on the front nine with an even-par 36 on the back, finishing in a tie for fourth.

“I should have shot an easy 3 or 4 under on the back nine,” Woods said.

Others, such as K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy, Bo Van Pelt, Angel Cabrera and Luke Donald were around the lead, but the tournament ultimately evolved into a three-man race between Schwartzel, Adam Scott and Jason Day.

No Australian has ever won The Masters, so as Day and Scott played together they were carrying the collective burden of a continent scarred by Greg Norman’s devastating defeats at Augusta.

Scott appeared to have the tournament won after he hit his approach shot to about a foot of the 16th hole for birdie and took a temporary two stroke lead over Schwartzel and Day.

However, Schwartzel was just getting started. Back on the 15th green, he made an 8-foot birdie putt to draw within one.

Scott parred the last two holes and finished with a tournament total of 12-under 276. Day, playing in his first Masters, birdied the last two holes to tie Scott and set the tournament scoring record for a rookie.

However, they were left to watch as Schwartzel continued one of the greatest closing stretches in Masters history.

Schwartzel hit a 15-foot birdie putt to tie and a 12-footer to take the lead. He closed in style with a 14-footer to win by two, his fourth birdie in a row.

"Obviously I've never been in sort of a situation like that in a major. I felt surprisingly very calm,” Schwartzel said.

His competitors could only marvel.

"I couldn't do any more than what I just did today. Charl played even better golf,” Day said.

"I don't think I can ask for anything more," Scott echoed.

One of the biggest topics of discussion throughout the week was the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ historic Masters win at the age of 46. The symmetry in his and Schwartzel’s wins is difficult to ignore.

Schwartzel is the first Masters winner to birdie the final four holes but the second to play them in four under par. The first? Nicklaus in ’86, aided by an eagle.

Schwartzel’s win brought great pride to his mentor, Gary Player. In a year of anniversaries, this was the 50th of Player’s first green jacket and the first win ever by an international player.

“I am absolutely delighted for Charl and South Africa. Congratulations and very well done to him,” Player said via Twitter. “That is how you finish like a champion!”


Reach Johnie Freatman by email or follow him on Twitter @scfreats.



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