Schwartzel wins Masters as McIlroy and Woods falter

South Africa's Charl Schwartzel rejoices after sinking a 20-foot birdie putt to seal his win at Augusta National. His 66 was the best closing round at the Masters in 22 years.
South Africa's Charl Schwartzel rejoices after sinking a 20-foot birdie putt to seal his win at Augusta National. His 66 was the best closing round at the Masters in 22 years.
Posted: April 11, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. - With eight players having held at least a share of the lead during Sunday's wacky final round of the Masters, keeping track of what was going on tended to be a little tricky, at least for Charl Schwartzel every time he looked at the leader board.

"Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something," Schwartzel said, referring to the roars Sunday that echoed through Augusta National Golf Club. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leader board. But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at.

"I think that sort of helped."

That, plus a rock-solid golf game and a calm disposition that belied his age (26) and his relative inexperience on the world stage carried Schwartzel to birdies on the four closing holes and a rather stunning 2-stroke victory in the 75th Masters.

On the 50th anniversary, to the day, when another South African, Gary Player, became the first international player to win the green jacket, Schwartzel, the son of a man who operates a chicken farm and taught him the game, fired a 6-under-par 66 - the best round of the day - for a 72-hole score of 14-under 274.

It was quite a feat for the 5-foot-11, 140-pound Schwartzel, who turned pro when he was 17 after taking part in a junior golf program sponsored by his countryman, three-time major champion Ernie Els. In his second Masters, he dealt with the heat both on the thermometer - the temperature approached 90 - and on the course.

Schwartzel began with two thunderbolts - a birdie chip-in at the first hole, and an eagle at the par-4 third when he holed out a sand wedge from 114 yards. Then he settled in with 11 straight pars before his spectacular finish.

Meanwhile, the leader board kept changing.

Twenty-one-year-old Rory McIlroy, who led by 4 shots entering Sunday, disintegrated during a three-hole stretch that he played in 6-over par and never recovered. Tiger Woods charged on the front nine, shooting 5 under, but could do no better than even par on the back.

So in addition to Schwartzel, McIlroy and Woods, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera, and K.J. Choi held a share of the lead at one time or another. But after a while, Schwartzel felt it was time to make his move.

"Par sometimes wasn't a bad score," he said. "So I wasn't feeling at all disappointed with the 11 pars I made. I wasn't losing any ground but I wasn't gaining.

"Obviously the guys are starting to make birdies and that was when I really needed to start digging deep to get a birdie out of it."

So he got going. He missed the green with his second shot at the par-5 15th but chipped up and made an 8-foot putt for birdie. He came to the picturesque 16th, knocked an 8-iron to 15 feet and sank that, moving into a tie for the lead with Scott, who had birdied the hole before him.

Then Schwartzel cut a 9-iron around some trees for his approach into 17 and drained the 12-footer to take the lead for good, and closed his victory march in style with a perfect drive, a pitching wedge and a 15-foot birdie putt.

Through this pressure-packed stretch, Schwartzel was cool and confident.

"I think I just had so much confidence in my putting at that stage that I knew if I can relax, my hands, that I would be able to make a proper stroke," he said. "I was able to do that every time just before I stood over the ball or got myself really calm, which is what you need to do when you putt. I'm proud of myself because that comes from quite a bit of practicing."

As Schwartzel was cruising along on his final four holes, his challengers couldn't keep up. Scott, who with Day and Ogilvy were seeking to become the first Australian to win the Masters, stuck his tee ball to 2 feet on the 16th and made birdie, but that was his last one in his round of 67.

Day, 23, in his first Masters, birdied the last two holes, but that only got him a tie for second with Scott at 276. Ogilvy rocketed into contention with five straight birdies from holes 12 through 16.

Woods (67), Ogilvy (67), and Luke Donald (69) all finished at 278. McIlroy closed with an 80 and tied for 15th.

Earlier in his career, Schwartzel attended Els' charity event for autism research, where he met Jack Nicklaus, and the six-time Masters champion explained to him in detail how to play each hole at Augusta National, even though Schwartzel had not yet seen the course.

"I was in such awe," he said. "I'm just staring and taking in what I can."

Schwartzel is a longtime friend of Louis Oosthuizen, the winner of last year's British Open with whom he traveled to countless amateur competitions. He called Oosthuizen's victory "a huge inspiration" and said it made him realize "it was possible . . . to take it over the barrier of thinking a major is too big to win."

The barrier was scaled on Sunday.

"You look at the leader board, there were a whole bunch of guys that could have won today," he said. "It's always going to come down to the back nine, who made the birdies coming in. It managed to go my way."


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com

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