Schwartzel closes with four birdies

Monday, April 11, 2011
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Someone was going to have to do something special to win what was turning into one of the wildest Masters Tournaments on record Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club.

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Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel sinks an 18-foot putt on 18 to close out the week with a record-setting four consecutive birdies.

(Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

South Africa's Charl Schwartzel did.

His historic finish in the 75th Masters was appropriate because it came on the 50th anniversary of countryman Gary Player's becoming the first international player to win the tournament.

The 26-year-old Schwartzel became the first Masters champion to birdie his final four holes -- two more than any other winner ever had to finish. He also did it in just his second appearance.

"It was always going to come down to the back nine, who made the birdies coming in," said Schwartzel, who started the day four shots off the lead.

"Justin Rose told me, 'You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,' " Schwartzel said. "I just sort of calmed myself as much as I could."

Schwartzel closed with 6-under-par 66, the low round by a champion since Nick Faldo's 65 in 1989, and finished at 14-under 274. The victory moved him from 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking to 11th. Germany's Martin Kaymer, who missed the cut, remains in the No. 1 spot.

Schwartzel's victory came on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player's becoming the first international player to win the Masters.

(Corey Perrine/Staff)

The win earned Schwartzel $1,440,000.

Two Australians -- playing partners Adam Scott and Jason Day -- tied for second place, two shots back. Scott had his second consecutive 67, and Day finished with 68 in his first Masters.

"If you want to go out and win a tournament, that's how you're going to do it," Day said. "Hats off to Charl; he played magnificently."

Rory McIlroy, who was in total control of his game through 54 holes when he built a four-shot lead, faded early on the back nine and finished tied for 15th place after shooting an 8-over 80.

Tiger Woods, who started the day seven shots back, blistered the front nine with 31 but missed three short putts on the back nine and had 36 to finish at 67. He tied for fourth for the second consecutive year.

"I got off to a nice start there and posted 31, and then on the back nine could have capitalized some more," Woods said.

Last year's champion, Phil Mickelson, helps Charl Schwartzel with his green jacket after the South African won the 2011 Masters.

(Corey Perrine/Staff)

Defending champion Phil Mickelson never tapped into the momentum from last week's win in Houston. He shot 70-72-71-74 to tie for 27th place.

Schwartzel's finish capped a wild day that saw eight players, including Woods, hold at least a share of the lead at one point.

Schwartzel got into the mix with a chip-in birdie from across the green on No. 1.

"On the first hole, things started going my way," Schwartzel said. "It's always nice when things start in the right direction."

He then holed out from 114 yards for eagle on the par-4 third hole. One bogey and 10 pars followed.

Then he saw the scoreboard on No. 15 and saw he was tied for the lead. That's when he knew what needed to be done.

"Sometimes I'd look at it and not register what I was looking at," Schwartzel said of the leaderboards around the course. "It was now or never. I knew I had to start making some good shots."

He did, starting with a 6-footer for birdie on No. 15, a 15-footer on No. 16, a 12-footer on No. 17 and an 18-footer on No. 18.

For the tournament, Schwartzel had 17 birdies, two eagles and seven bogeys.

"We're all so excited," said Player, a three-time Masters champion. "To finish with four birdies under that pressure was phenomenal. He kept his cool so well."

With 22 major championship victories since World War II, South Africa has the second most titles after the United States. Two of the four major championship are currently held by South Africans -- Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open last July.

"It means an awful lot," Player said. "South Africa is a great sporting nation. We've had great rugby players, great golfers, great hurdlers, great cricketeers, great swimmers. Physical training is a big part."

Schwartzel is also the second South African to win the Masters in the past four years, joining 2008 champion Trevor Immelman.

For the first time since 1994, no American holds any of the major championships.

Seven of the top 10 finishers Sunday were international players.

The eight players who held at least a share of the lead Sunday were Schwartzel, McIlroy, Day, Scott, Woods, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera and K.J. Choi.

"It was a classic Augusta Sunday," said England's Justin Rose, who closed with 68 to tie for 11th.

"This is what you hear stories about; there were plenty of roars today," said Bo Van Pelt, who was within one shot of the lead at one point and ended up tied for eighth after 70.

"It was a good day to be on the couch watching golf today," Van Pelt said. "I told my caddie this is the stuff you can't pay for. You can't buy your way to be in the middle of the mix on the back nine on Sunday."

The biggest shocker of the day was the play of the 21-year-old McIlroy. After rounds of 65-69-70 with just three bogeys, he seemed on his way.

But he had four bogeys on Sunday,along with a double and a triple bogey.

"I think it's a Sunday in a major and what it can do to you," said McIlroy, from Northern Ireland. "It's my first experience at it. Hopefully, the next time I'm in this position, I'll be able to handle it a little bit better. It was a character-builder today, put it that way. I'll be stronger for it."

McIlroy had a one-shot lead going into the back nine, but he went triple bogey, bogey and double bogey to drop to 5-under and five shots off the lead.

After his tee shot on the 13th hole went in the creek, he knew he was done.

"On the tee, I realized unless I birdied my way in I didn't have a chance," Once I hit that tee shot left on 13, I knew that was it."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.