by Jeff Skinner
As usual it was an amazing day at The Masters. From the opening tee shot of the final group to the last birdie of the day at eighteen it was about as exciting as a tournament can get. Any of ten golfers had a chance of winning the 75th Masters once the leaders had made the turn and at one time five were tied for the lead at ten under par. It looked to be a wide open tournament and it certainly gave us a roller coaster finish.
It was perhaps the least known of the group that played the steadiest and at the same time the most exciting golf of the day that walked away victorious. Charl Schwartzel emerged from a star studded group of professionals that made this Sunday at The Masters one of the most exciting ever.
Leader Rory McIlroy succumbed to the pressure of holding the final round lead at The Masters and plummeted down the leaderboard. About that time a host of players were starting their assault on Augusta National and the cheers echoed through the historic hills of Augusta.
Tiger Woods was in the lead for a bit and made a huge statement with his 67 to finish at -10. Luke Donald threatened to win and except for a water ball at twelve he might have succeeded. K.J Choi had a piece of the lead until his putter went south on the back nine. Angel Cabrera looked to be in the mix but faded on the back nine. A trio of Aussies had a chance to be the first Masters winner from their country. Geoff Ogilvy strung five birdies together to vault into the mix. A resurgent Adam Scott looked to be the man to beat for awhile with a two shot lead after sixteen and shot a great 67. Jason Day thought he may be the first Aussie to win the green jacket with a huge birdie, birdie finish to tie Scott with another 67. But all their theatrics paled when compared to the finish of eventual winner Charl Schwartzel.
Schwartzel’s back nine may be the most exciting back nine since Jack Nicklaus charged home twenty five years ago to win his sixth green jacket. But it was his first three holes that put him in position for a charge. Schwartzel started with an exciting chip in from off the green at one for birdie. On the third hole the Golf Gods showed their favor on the South African when his approach from the fairway found the bottom of the cup four eagle. He was three under after three holes and he stepped right in to the thick of the race. Even a bogey on the fourth couldn’t derail him. He played steady par golf from the fifth hole through the fourteenth and then started a run that will go down in Masters history.
When he left fourteen he was at ten under and Tiger Woods was in the house at the same. Adam Scott had gone to eleven under and had a brief two stroke lead. That is until Schwartzel went on his run. He birdied fifteen which is a definite birdie hole. Then with a great approach to sixteen he sunk another birdie putt to get to twelve under par. He then followed that with a difficult birdie putt on seventeen that rolled in to get to thirteen under par. His drive on the final hole split the fairway and he looked as cool and calm as could be when he hit an approach right of the pin about pin high. He had two putts for the win but put an exclamation point on this win when he rolled it in the cup for his fourth straight birdie and his first green jacket.
Schwartzel, 26 has had support from the Ernie Els golf program in South Africa, just as Open Champion Louie Oosthuizen has. This win speaks volumes as to the success of the junior golf programs in South Africa. It is very fitting that Schwartzel wins The Masters fifty years to the day that Gary Player became the first ever international player to win The Masters.
Charl Schwartzel started the day four strokes back of the leader. He was buried in a pack of golfers that included one of the greats of all time, major winners, seasoned veterans and some young phenoms. He stayed the course and managed the low round of the day and finished with an remarkable flourish. He entered the pressure cooker of the back nine at Augusta and exited with an historic ending and a brand new green jacket.