It was a crowded field at the 2011 Masters, going into the final nine holes. But when all was said and done, it was Charl Schwartzel who reigned supreme, nudging Tiger Woods out of the headlines.
Woods stroked his second shot from the 15th hole at Augusta on Sunday afternoon, and before the ball even landed, he started marching forward, a familiar icy focus in his eyes. He didn’t have to stand there, shouting instructions at the ball, like “stay down!” Or “get there!” Woods knew the shot was a beauty, so he just started to march. We haven’t seen Tiger’s confident march all that much over the past year, a period in which he hasn’t won a single golf tournament.
But on this wild, wonderful final round at the 2011 Masters, the march was back, and Tiger’s second shot landed four-feet from the hole. Woods had already strung together a vintage performance, shooting a five-under-par 31 on the front-nine to rocket back into contention. He started the day seven shots back of leader Rory McIllroy. Before his second shot at 15, a par-five, he was a stroke behind. Now, Woods was an easy four-foot shoot away from an eagle, and sole possession of first. Augusta was ready to erupt.
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But Woods missed the putt. He missed that silly little four-foot putt. There’d be no more marching for Tiger.
He wound up finishing at 10-under-par, four strokes behind the heretofore-unknown winner, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who birdied the last four holes to win the 75th Masters, and his first major title. Schwartzel, 26, beat a back-nine leaderboard that stretched across the continents. At one point he was tied with Woods (North America) and three Australians – Jason Day, Geoff Ogilvy, and Adam Scott – for first. Angel Cabrera (South America) and K.J. Choi (Asia) were still lurking. Every minute, it seemed, someone new, somewhere on the course, hit a shot to put himself into contention. In all, eight different golfers had at least a share of the lead on Sunday.
Europe had the roughest day. McIllroy (Northern Island), who like Woods was trying to win the Masters at tender age of 21 – Woods pulled it off in 1997 – started the day with a four-shot lead. He teed- off at the tenth up a stroke, but pulled the drive between two cabins, far from the fairway. Three shots later, he hit a tree. The triple-bogey seven began a meltdown that was difficult to watch. McIllroy almost completely lost his composure, angrily tossing a club to the side. Give him credit, though: most people would have just jumped into Rae’s Creek. McIllroy finished with an 80, eight-over-par for the day, and fell into a 15th-place tie for the tournament.
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Scott, one of the better tour players to have never won a major, first broke the five-way-pileup with a birdie on 14. He stuck his drive on the par-3 16th hole just a few feet from the pin. That birdie put him up two, at 12-under par. Scott seemed like the safe bet. But Schwartzel, who last year had received Masters tips during a lunch with Jack Nicklaus, was playing behind Scott and Day, a fellow Aussie. He had too much golf left in him. Schwartzel’s 10-foot birdie putt at 17 put him on top. He just needed a two-putt on the 18th-green to win it, but instead of leaving himself a jittery final shot, he nailed the 20-foot birdie.
Maybe Schwartzel saw Tiger’s flub, and didn’t want to risk a short putt. So the South African marched – right into Butler Cabin, to grab his green jacket.
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