Unlikely hero emerges from wild day at Augusta

Tiger Woods was almost there. Adam Scott was almost there. Rory McIlroy was there and then was nowhere. The final day of the year’s first major golf tournament turned into an unsuspected Sunday afternoon of drama, disappointment, and for a skinny kid most Americans have never heard of, success.

The Masters became a carousel of emotions, became a comeback for Tiger, and most significantly, became a breakthrough for Charl Schwartzel, who may not have an “es” on his name, but has no flaws in his game.

Schwartzel is from South Africa, which last year gave the globe vuvuzelas and Louis Oosthuizen, the British Open champion.

It may be a small world after all, but in golf, it’s not the United States’ world. The last four majors all have been won by non-Americans.

“America is big,” Schwartzel had said Saturday, “but the world is bigger. There’s just a bunch of good players out there from the European Tour and even Asia.”

One those players is the 5-foot-11, 140-pound, 26-year-old Schwartzel, who in what is believed unprecedented in Masters history, birdied the final four holes. Of course, the tournament’s only been held 75 years.

“Sometimes,” said Schwartzel, who was in just his second Masters, “things just happen. It just sort of snowballs. But I was playing well.”

Indeed, he shot a 6-under-par 66 Sunday for a 14-under total of 274, two shots ahead of Scott and Jason Day, either of whom would have been the first Australian to win the Masters. Tiger, not over the hill if still under scrutiny, Geoff Ogilvy — yet another Aussie — and Luke Donald finished at 10-under 278.

This was a Masters of a Tiger comeback — he shot 31-36 — 67 Sunday — and a Rory McIlroy collapse, the opposite of what might have been suggested after Saturday’s third round.

That’s when Woods shot 74, ending a streak of 16 rounds of par or better at the Masters and when the 21-year-old McIlroy, who grew up idolizing Tiger, even to the point of knowing which classes he attended at Stanford, was holding a four-shot lead.

Tiger found his game, even though it wasn’t enough to get his first win on American soil in more than a year and a half, and McIlroy suddenly lost his. Still tied for first entering the back nine at Augusta National, McIlroy hit a tee shot at 10 so far off line it nearly landed in the little cabins beyond the trees. He went triple-bogey, bogey, 4-putt, double bogey. He shot 80 and dropped to a tie for 15th at 4-under 284.

“I hit a poor shot at 10,” said McIlroy, “and just sort of unraveled from there.”

Woods, who also finished fourth last year after his comeback from infidelities and rehab, said, “This entire weekend I hit it good. I could have capitalized more, but I got a shot at it.”

Schwartzel made his shots count. He and Oosthuizen grew up together. Now each has a major title.

“To see Louis win [the British] was a huge inspiration,” Schwartzel said. “We play every single practice round together. To see him do it made me realize that it is possible for me to get over the barrier.”

He got over. He’s champion of the 2011 Masters.


Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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