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This Masters is one we'll remember

Monday, April 11, 2011
By Scott Michaux
Columnist

Well, that was something. Never saw anything like it.

Charl Schwartzel had the best four-hole finish at the Masters since Jack Nicklaus in 1986.

(Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

For the 75th Masters Tournament, there was literally a little bit of everything.

There was a Nicklausian charge by the best golfer of the generation, Tiger Woods.

There was a Normanesque collapse by the 54-hole leader, Rory McIlroy.

There was unequivocal evidence of the Par-3 jinx intervening with Luke Donald.

There were a trio of Australians trying desperately to break their nation's Masters drought.

There was a 10-player pileup on the second nine Sunday with eight of them at some point holding a share of the lead.

There were eagles and birdies and triples and doubles.

There were roars and groans.

And ultimately there was a young South African -- who escaped work on his family's chicken farm to play golf -- starting out the day with a chip-in and a hole-out and finishing with four consecutive birdies to rise above the mayhem and win a green jacket.

"I thought that Saturday was loud, but today was something else," Charl Schwartzel said after posting the most impressive of many Sunday performances to win the Masters. "There's always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something."

If you could read Adam Scott's lips when he shook fellow Australian Jason Day's hand as they walked off the 18th green as runners-up, it summed up a day unlike any other in Masters history.

"That was awesome; that was unbelievable; that was great," said Scott in a flurry of superlatives about a day that was all of that and then some.

You knew this was going to be a wild one right out of the gate. McIlroy went off with a four-shot lead and hadn't even left the second green before every bit of it was gone. Right in front of him, Schwartzel chipped in from 80 feet on the first hole for birdie and then holed out from 114 yards on the third, knocking the lead down to nothing thanks to McIlroy's missed 4-footer for par on the first.

While all that was going on, Woods decided to make his presence known. McIlroy hadn't even walked off the third tee when Woods prompted a roar on the adjacent seventh green with a dart that led to a birdie.

On the next hole, Woods eagled No. 8 and was suddenly tied for the lead after starting the day seven shots behind.

"A hell of a run from him," Scott said about Woods. "You can just tell what's going on out there. It's quite unique."

Despite all of the bedlam and the shakiness of his game, McIlroy still led entering the second nine Sunday -- the heralded starting point of the Masters. Then he drove it into purgatory, caroming off a tree and nestling between the Peek and Berckman cabins set back in the pines.

"I don't think anyone's been over there in those cabins before," he said with a strained laugh in a classy post-round rehash of the worst day of his career. "I just unraveled."

McIlroy wasn't alone in grief. Woods had his own regrets to ponder as he left the property. He followed his sizzling 31 on the front with a pedestrian 36 on the second, three-putting for the sixth time on 12, mangling 13, missing a 4-foot eagle putt on 15 and an 8-footer on 16.

"Got off to a nice start," Woods said. "On the back nine I could have capitalized more."

Everybody else did. It became the theater of the absurd. At some point it was impossible to keep up with who was doing what. Geoff Ogilvy birdied five in a row to come from nowhere to briefly join a six-way tie for the lead. Bo Van Pelt eagled 13 and 15 to join the 10-under party. Scott's long putter got hot and sent him to the front, where Day caught up with him by sinking birdies on 17 and 18.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard," Schwartzel said. "But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at, and I think that sort of helped. I knew going up 15, that's the first time that I saw Adam Scott had made a couple of birdies, and Jason Day. From there on, I knew it was now or never."

And to Schwartzel's eternal credit, he chose the now. He drained a combined 51 feet worth of putts on the last four holes to go birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie -- the best four-hole finish to win the Masters since Jack Nicklaus went eagle-birdie-birdie-par to win in 1986.

What are you going to do? You can't beat that.

"An incredibly exciting finish to the Masters," Scott said. "It's amazing what happens at this place."

Said Day: "It was one of the most exciting tournaments I've ever played in. You're walking down the fairway and there's so many roars, you don't know what's going on and you see a number pop up on the leaderboard and the crowd is going crazy. It's lived up to everything I expected, and more."

The Sunday show left everyone gasping for air and grasping to find anything comparable. Who knows how history will treat it as some of these young players start building their resumes with other major wins? But one thing that will never be forgotten is the spell-binding drama of the world's best golfers careening six-wide down the stretch.

"That was quite a shoot-out," said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem on his way to the green jacket presentation. "I think Billy Payne ought to just read a list of names at the ceremony: 'I'd like to thank the following players for lighting it up the last five hours.' "

We all should thank them for that. A Masters this memorable is a gift.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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