AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — The finishing touch of a most amazing Masters was Charl Schwartzel slipping into a green jacket. Until that moment late Sunday afternoon, everything else at Augusta National was up for grabs.
The roars came from everywhere, for everyone, and never stopped.
Tiger Woods made up a seven-shot deficit in nine holes – too bad it was the front nine. Geoff Ogilvy ran off five straight birdies. Rory McIlroy matched the greatest collapse in Masters history with a stretch of holes not even Greg Norman would want to watch.
It was so wild that eight players had at least a share of the lead on the back nine.
Schwartzel emerged from all this madness with a magical touch of his own. He became the first Masters champion in its 75-year history to finish with four straight birdies, giving him a 6-under 66 for the best final round by a winner in 22 years.
The green jacket ceremony wasn’t so much a celebration as a chance for everyone to catch their breath.
“There’s so many roars that go on around Augusta,” Schwartzel said. “Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There’s always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard.”
At times, it was nearly impossible to keep up.
There was a five-way lead at the top at one point, and only the final hour sorted it all out.
Schwartzel didn’t have the lead to himself until he knocked in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, then put just the right touch on a memorable Sunday with one final birdie putt that only counted toward the final margin.
He won by two shots over Adam Scott and Jason Day, a pair of Australians who didn’t drop a single shot on the back nine.
“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.
There was the fist-pumping charge by Tiger Woods that was slowed by two putts he missed from inside 4 feet. There was Luke Donald, dumping his tee shot into the pond at No. 12 only to make four birdies over the last six holes, chipping in on the last one.
And then there was McIlroy, whose 80 in the final round might be remembered as much for the classy way he handled it all.
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.
McIlroy had the highest final round by a 54-hole leader since Ken Venturi in 1956. Not since Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie had someone lost at least a four-shot lead going into the last round of the major.
“It’s never nice to be leading a tournament and do what I did today,” McIlroy said.
On the course he looked as though he wanted to hide. After the round, he looked everyone in the eye and answered every question.
The steady hand came from Schwartzel, whose only bogey came on the fourth hole as this Masters was just getting warmed up. He made par on 10 consecutive holes when he began his great run.
Schwartzel 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 took the lead, 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 Ogilvy and Donald, from K.J. Choi 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.
From the second green, where he was scrambling to make par, McIlroy could hear the noise ahead of him for Schwartzel’s eagles. Moments later came another roar to his right on the seventh green, where Woods stuffed one close for another birdie.
Woods’ red shirt looked a little brighter. He walked a little taller. And the cheers kept coming.
The biggest boom from the gallery came on the par-5 eighth, when Woods knocked in an eagle putt to reach 10 under and tie for the lead. There was no mistaking that sound, or who it was for.
Over the next few minutes, more cheers could be heard from all corners of Augusta each time Woods’ score was posted on a leaderboard. He still had the back nine to play, and momentum was on his side.
Not for long, though.
He missed a 3-foot par putt on the 12th, failed to birdie the par-5 13th with a 7-iron for his second shot. Then, after twirling his 7-iron with a shot so pure it settled 4 feet away on the par-5 15th, he missed the 4-foot eagle putt.
Woods closed with a 67, his best final round ever here. But he shot a 36 on the back nine, and that doesn’t win the Masters, certainly not this one.
“I got off to a nice start there and posted 31,” he said. “And then on the back nine, could have capitalized some more.”
Which shot would he like to have back?
“Oh, we can’t do that,” Woods said. “We do that every week and we would go crazy, wouldn’t we?”
Schwartzel finished at 14-under 274 and moves to No. 11 in the world, making him the No. 1 player in South Africa. He becomes the sixth South African to win a major.
“It’s been such a short time to think about what can happen. It’s a dream for me,” Schwartzel said. “It’s obviously the highlight of my golf career, by a long way. I always thought if there was one I would win, it would be this one.”
For Scott and Day, it was bitter disappointment for themselves and their country. The Masters is the only major an Australian has never won, and it has become a rallying cry for so many players who watched Norman endure years of heartache.
Scott, who switched to a long putter in February, took the lead for the first time with a short birdie on the 14th and had the look of a winner with his tee shot to tap-in range on the 16th, and a clutch par save from the bunker on the 17th.
He missed his 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole that he ran 4 feet by and settled for a 67.
“I don’t think I can ask for anything more,” Scott said. “I had a putt at it at the last – not my best, but everything else was pretty good today.”
Day came to life at the end with consecutive birdies that allowed him to shoot 68 and join Scott at 12-under 276. He hugged his wife before going into the scoring hut, only to see Schwartzel play the 18th without any drama.
“I couldn’t do anymore than what I just did today,” Day said. “Charl played even better golf.”
Woods tied for fourth at the Masters for the second straight year, joined by Ogilvy (67) and Luke Donald (69). Ogilvy ran off five consecutive birdies on the back nine – unforgettable at any other Masters but this one filled with so many highlights. Donald was in the mix until hitting 9-iron into Rae’s Creek on the 12th for double bogey.
He rebounded beautifully, however, and showed his greatest emotion on the 18th. With an awkward lie near the bunker, he scooped a shot that hit the flag and bounced back off the green, and Donald chipped in for birdie.
Ultimately, though, it was Schwartzel slipping into a green jacket.