AUGUSTA, Georgia (AP) ― Charl Schwartzel gave this Masters a finish it deserved.
On an amazing Sunday at Augusta National, where the roars came from everywhere and for everyone and didn’t stop until it was over, Schwartzel emerged from the madness by becoming the first Masters champion to close with four straight birdies.
His final putt from 20 feet curled into the side of the cup for a 6-under 66, the best closing round at the Masters in 22 years. It gave the 26-year-old South African a two-shot victory over Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day.
“Just an exciting day,” Schwartzel said. “So many roars, and that atmosphere out there was just incredible. A phenomenal day.”
Indeed, this final round had it all.
First came a fist-pumping charge by Tiger Woods, who erased a seven-shot deficit in nine holes only to go flat on the back nine. Then came the stunning collapse of 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, who put his name in Masters lore for all the wrong reasons.
Still leading by one shot as he headed to the back nine, McIlroy hit a tee shot next to the cabins left of the 10th fairway and twice hit a tree to make triple bogey. He three-putted from 7 feet for bogey on the 11th, four-putted from about 12 feet on the next hole and buried his head into his forearm as the shock began to settle in.
Phil Mickelson (left) helps Charl Schwartzel put on his green jacket after winning the Masters tournament. 9AP-Yonhap News)
McIlroy shot 80, the highest final round by the 54-hole leader since Ken Venturi in 1956. Not since Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie had someone blown at least a four-shot lead going into the last round of the major.
So wild was this steamy afternoon that eight players had at least a share of the lead on some point during the back nine. The steady hand came from Schwartzel, whose only bogey came on the fourth hole as this Masters was just getting warmed up.
He got up-and-down from behind the 15th green for birdie to briefly tie for the lead, only for Scott to stuff his tee shot into 2 feet up ahead on the par-3 16th. Schwartzel answered with a 15-foot birdie to catch Scott atop the leaderboard again.
Then came the pivotal 17th, where Schwartzel made a 10-foot birdie. It was the first time all day he had the lead to himself, and he finished it off in style.
South Africans now have won two of the last three majors, following Louis Oosthuizen winning at St. Andrews last summer. This one came on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player becoming the first international player to win the Masters.
“I am absolutely delighted for Charl and South Africa. Congratulations and very well done to him. That is how you finish like a champion!” Player said on Twitter.
In so many respects, this looked more like 1986 when Jack Nicklaus charged on the back nine to win a sixth green jacket over a Hall of Fame cast of contenders. There were twice as many possibilities at this Masters, though, from Woods and former Masters champion Angel Cabrera, from Geoff Ogilvy and Luke Donald, from Choi Kyoung-ju and Bo Van Pelt, who made two eagles on the back nine.
Schwartzel set the tone early when he chipped in from some 75 feet across the green for birdie on the opening hole, then holed out from the fairway on No. 3 for eagle. Just like that, McIlroy’s four-shot lead was gone.
The cheers were impossible for McIlroy to ignore.