Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Charl's in charge

Schwartzel claims first green jacket


Charl Schwartzel is the only man in the tournament's history to win by birdieing the final four holes.


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They might remember this Masters for the sudden and monumental collapse of Rory McIlroy as he descended into Amen Corner, a painful stumble reminiscent of Greg Norman's blown six-shot lead in 1996.

Or they might remember what happened at Augusta National Golf Club for the dramatic charge engineered by Tiger Woods, a run that shook golf's grand cathedral just like Jack Nicklaus in '86.

But, when history tries to recap the glorious and unpredictable moments of what transpired Sunday in the long shadows of the Georgia pines, only one thing ultimately will matter: Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who learned the game from countryman Ernie Els, emerged from a crowded leaderboard to birdie the final four holes and win the 75th Masters.

"I didn't think I'd put on a green jacket before him," Schwartzel said of Els, a three-time major champion who never won the Masters.

Ignoring the thunderous roars generated by Woods and taking advantage when McIlroy needed 22 shots to get through a torturous four-hole stretch of Amen Corner, Schwartzel shot the low round of the day (66) to finish at 14-under 275 and win the green jacket in impressive and record fashion.

No player in the 75-year history of the tournament birdied the final four holes to win the Masters. But Schwartzel, 26, did just that -- 50 years after countryman Gary Player became the first international player to win the Masters and nine months after his friend and compatriot, Louis Oosthuizen, surprisingly won the British Open.

"There are so many roars that go on around Augusta, especially the back nine -- it echoes through those trees," Schwartzel said. "Every single hole someone has done something. I knew when I was playing 15, I saw Adam Scott had made a couple birdies and, from there, I knew it's now or never, I have to hit some good shots."

Indeed, just when it appeared Scott would end his 0-for-39 drought in major championships and become the first Australian to win the Masters, Schwartzel popped out of a logjam of players with four consecutive birdies, capping off his charge with a 15-foot birdie at the final hole to give him a two-shot victory over Scott and another Australian, Jason Day.

Scott shot back-to-back 67s over the weekend at Augusta National to finish at 12-under 276, but it still wasn't enough to hold off a charging Schwartzel, who was ranked 29th in the world before his victory.

"He's a very quiet, unassuming guy, probably not prominent in everyone's mind," Scott said of Schwartzel. "But he certainly is among the players. You saw it [Sunday]. He has a hell of a swing, and when you play with him and see him strike the ball, you take notice because it's pretty impressive."

Schwartzel's finish to the round was even more impressive than the start, when he birdied the first hole by chipping in from off the green and eagled the 350-yard third when he holed a sand wedge from 114 yards in the fairway.

"From the word go, things started going right for me," Schwartzel said.

He quickly gave a shot back at the next hole, then ran off 10 consecutive pars before his furious flurry of birdies allowed him to surge past Scott. It also allowed him to pass Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who made five birdies in a row in a back-nine 31 to finish tied with Woods and Luke Donald at 10 under.

"There were so many roars, you don't know what's going on," said Day, who birdied the final two holes to tie Scott in his first Masters appearance. "You see numbers pop up on the board and everyone's going crazy. It lived up to everything I expected and more."

Most of those roars were for Woods, who began the round seven shots behind McIlroy but quickly closed the gap with four birdies and an eagle in a front-nine 31.

Woods had a chance to generate some Nicklaus-like magic with a 4 1/2-foot eagle putt at No. 15 -- the same hole where the Golden Bear put on his final four-hole charge in '86. But Woods had to settle for birdie, and, while it put him in a five-way tie for the lead, it put a damper on his charge.

"I got off to a nice start there and posted 31," Woods said. "And then on the back I could have capitalized some more, but I still had a shot at it."

There were only groans for McIlroy, 21, who shared or held the lead after all three rounds and began the day with a four-shot lead. He even held a one-shot lead heading to the back nine, despite all charges by his competitors.

Then came one of the most sudden and monumental collapses in the 75-year history of the tournament.

McIlroy snapped his tee shot at No. 10 off a tree, his ball ricocheting so far left it ended up next to the Butler Cabin. After pitching out to the fairway, he yanked his third shot so badly again that his ball nearly hit a portable scoreboard left of the green.

When his pitch shot hit a tree limb and came backward, McIlroy was on his way to a triple-bogey-7 -- the first time he had not been in the lead since the first round.

McIlroy wasn't finished. After not three-putting in the first 64 holes, he three-putted from 12 feet at No. 11 for bogey, then four-putted from 15 feet for double bogey at No. 12 -- one of the worst unravels in Masters history.

"I thought I hung in on the front nine pretty good," said McIlroy, who shot a final-round 80 with a back-nine 43. "I was leading the tournament going to the back nine, I hit a poor shot on 10, and I unraveled from there. I just sort of lost it. And, you know, I couldn't really get it back."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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