AUGUSTA, Ga. – Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes at Augusta National to break out of a gridlock race and win the Masters. This was an exercise in calmness and control, in talent and execution, and in the peace and quiet of azaleas and pines. Well, when the galleries weren’t thundering. That’s the golf translation. To put this into context of a broader human experience, it was the equivalent of climbing Everest one-handed, of lapping the field on the final lap at Indy, of winning the Super Bowl with a six-man team. That’s what Schwartzel did.
Schwartzel leaves them gasping
Not that anyone believed that he would do it as this wild Sunday afternoon unfolded. This was getting set to go down in golf history as the day when Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, brash and effervescent 21-year-old, would come to pieces on the back nine, and when a resurgent Tiger Woods had finally rediscovered the old magic was about to reclaim what was his, namely the throne of world golf.
It was also the day when someone – anyone – from Australia would finally break through and do what Greg Norman couldn’t do with a six-stroke lead in 1996, and that was win the Masters. The candidates were mixed and worthy. There was Adam Scott, 30, finally coming into his own. There was Geoff Ogilvy, who had won the U.S. Open in 2007 and who was responding again to the pressure of a major. And there was the cracking good Jason Day, 23, another in the world’s rising youth. He was forgetting that first-timers do not have the savvy and the guts to win the Masters, or even come that close. Apart from Woods, there was Bo Van Pelt, 35, the stray and unlikely American, with one victory in his varied career, making eagles at the 13th and 15th before falling just short. Toss in Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, former Masters and U.S. Open champ, and Korea’s K.J. Choi, and England’s Luke Donald, and one was likely to call for a show of hands of everybody who couldn’t win this Masters.
There have been great duels in Masters history, and there have been wild days, but never anything like this.
“Just sort of calmed myself as mujch as I could, and from the word go on the first hole, things started going for me,” Schwartzel said. He started the round four behind McIlroy and just kept plugging away, but what with all the smoke coming from Woods’ charge – a 31 on the front – and then McIlroy’s crash, hardly anyone could take him seriously. Not in that field.
McIlroy made a couple of bogeys and one birdie on the front, and was still leading by one through the turn. Then the whiz kid started playing like a boy. He triggered a stampede with that tee shot at the 10th. It went maybe 100 yards down the fairway, hit a tree, and about 70 yards back into the cabins, where nobody ever goes, except perhaps some members having a cookout.
“I felt comfortable on that tee shot all week,” McIlroy said. “And for some reason, I just started it a little left of where I wanted to, hit that tree. I just unraveled from there."
He chopped a triple bogey-7 from there, and then came a bogey at the 11th and a double at the 12th. Augusta National provides golfers with everything except a hole to crawl into.
Woods took one bogey on the front, but birdies at Nos. 2, 3, 6 and 7, and an eagle at the par-5 eighth gave him that superhot 31 on the front. It was clear the galleries sensed his sixth Masters waiting to be plucked. He had started the day seven behind. But his sizzling run stalled out when he missed a short par putt at the 12th and another short one for eagle at the 15th, and was the leader in the clubhouse with a 67 and a 10-under 278.
“I should have shot an easy 3- or 4-under on the back nine, but I only posted even,” Woods said. He tied for fourth. Which shot would he like to have back? “Oh, we can’t do that,” he said. “We would go crazy.”
Scott was just strolling along largely unnoticed until he birdied the eighth and ninth. He took the lead at the 14th, and retook it at the 16th. “I was trying not to look at the leaderboards too much,” Scott said. “But it’s easy to figure out with the roars and the groans and stuff what’s going on out there.” And Day was about to fulfill his obvious promise without too much seasoning. He birdied the last two holes to tie Scott for second. “It was unreal,” he said. “There’s roars all around you and you don’t know what’s going on. And then a little number pops up on the leaderboards and everyone’s screaming.”
Through the din, Schwartzel went grinding away, on a start as fragmented as the entire day – a chip-in birdie at No. 1, par at No. 2, hole-out eagle at No. 3, bogey at No. 4, followed by 10 pars. That got him through the par-4 14th. Then the spring to the finish from the 15th – birdie putts from 8, 15, 12 and 15 feet. He didn’t really need the last one. He’d put his approach just to the right, and a comfortable two-putt would wrap it up. But he nicely rolled it home for a 66 and a 274 total, 14 under, to win by two.
“There’s so many roars that go on around Augusta,” Schwartzel said. “They echo through those trees. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something.”
Mostly Schwartzel himself, finally. Through all the roars, he left them gasping.
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