|ESPN.com: Masters 2011||[Print without images]|
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- What Charl Schwartzel lacks in charisma, he certainly makes up for in chutzpah. Roars reverberating through the pines, putts dropping from every corner of Augusta National, more accomplished golfers making charges ... and all Schwartzel did was birdie the final four holes.
To win the Masters.
Never before has the green jacket gone to a player who finished in such fashion, a stunning end to an incredible day at the 75th playing of the year's first major championship.
Quiet, unassuming Schwartzel, 26, knocked in a chip shot for a birdie at the first, holed a wedge shot for an eagle at the third, then played steady golf through a pulsating day that then saw him roar to the end with birdies at the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes and a final-round 66.
In the process, the South African passed the likes of Tiger Woods and Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day on the leaderboard and was the unlikely winner of a major championship he was playing for just the second time.
"As always, it happens on the back nine on Sunday, just like you dreamt it," said Schwartzel's caddie, Greg Hearmon.
In this year's edition, Woods was making a patented move, Scott and Day were attempting to become the first Australians to win the Masters, as was Geoff Ogilvy -- who birdied five straight holes on the back nine -- and seemingly unflappable Rory McIlroy was melting down, shooting a final-round 80 that allowed a dozen players to dream.
It made for a riveting final round at Augusta National that had a little bit of everything, from joy to pain and everything in between, producing one of the more memorable final days here.
"It was unreal," said Day, who was playing in his first Masters. "It's probably the most excited I've ever been in a golf tournament. It's the most exciting tournament I've ever played in.
"You're out there in the middle of the fairway, and there's roars around you and you don't know what's going on. And then all you see is that little number pop up on the leaderboards and everyone screaming. And it's an amazing feeling to be out there in the thick of things."
For a time, Schwartzel seemingly got lost in the hysteria. Woods bolted into contention with a front-nine 31 that included a ground-shifting eagle at the eighth hole. His birdie at the 15th -- where he missed a 6-footer for eagle -- put him in a tie for the lead. Over the course of the day, eight players held at least a share, then it was Day, Scott and Schwartzel who pulled ahead, with nobody able to keep up with the South African.
"There's so many roars that go on around Augusta," Schwartzel said. "Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There's always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard."
Schwartzel had remarked this weekend how calm McIlroy appeared, especially when visiting him at a function put on by the management agency for both players, International Sports Management.
The company rented a house in Augusta and threw a party Friday night that was attended by several clients. They were to have another one Sunday night, although it was expected that McIlroy would be the beneficiary. Instead, it was for Schwartzel.
|With so many players in contention Sunday, no one saw Charl Schwartzel coming. The South African birdied his final four holes to clinch his first green jacket and major championship.|
"It'll be a wake, as well," quipped one of the management company's employees.
On the day McIlroy was supposed to prevail, it turned into another surprise celebration for a South African -- the second in the past three majors -- as Schwartzel joined his good friend Louis Oosthuizen, the winner of last year's Open Championship at St. Andrews.
It was that 7-stroke win by Oosthuizen that gave Schwartzel the belief that he could do it, too.
"He inspired me so much, by seeing him do it," Schwartzel said at the green jacket ceremony on Augusta's putting green. "We grew up together. And he made me think it was possible to win a major like this."
Schwartzel grew up on a farm outside Johannesburg and remains an avid hunter. It was that pursuit that led him to a conversation with Jack Nicklaus last year, figuring the common interest could spark some conversation with the Golden Bear.
The meeting was arranged by a prominent South African businessman named Johann Rupert, who has been a friend and mentor to many golfers in that country, including Ernie Els.
"I had never met Jack, and I was really excited," Schwartzel said. "I knew he sort of liked hunting a little bit. That's the way I got the conversation going.
"And Mr. Rupert said to him, 'Can you maybe take Charl -- just give him a few tips to play Augusta.' Just thinking it's going to be a quick little thing."
Nope. Nicklaus went hole by hole, telling Schwartzel how he thought around the storied course on his way to winning the Masters six times. He explained that green zones are what you aim for, red zones you avoid and orange zones are the bailout area. Schwartzel had yet to even play the course.
Rupert, who was at Augusta National for Schwartzel's victory, picks up the story from there.
"I could see the kid -- he's got this lovely smile -- I could see he wasn't paying attention," Rupert said. "I was writing down the notes as fast as I could. And then I emailed it to him. And the rest is history."
Schwartzel had won six times on the European Tour before Sunday's victory, including a win earlier this year at the Joburg Open. He moved from 29th in the world to 11th.
But he was not typically mentioned among the young players expected to win a major.
"He's a very quiet, unassuming guy, and I think not prominent in everyone's mind," Scott said. "But among the players and the European players -- you must have seen it today -- he hit some beautiful shots. He's got a helluva golf swing. I played with him a few times last year, and certainly he's a guy when you're out playing with him and you see him strike the ball, you take notice. Because it's pretty impressive."
American golf fans got a glimpse of his talent at last year's Doral tournament, where he was a guest at Els' home the week before, then found himself in contention with the Big Easy in the World Golf Championship event.
Els prevailed that day, but he has long been touting someone he refers to as "like a little brother."
Els has a foundation in South Africa that is charged with, among other things, developing young talent. Schwartzel participated in the program, and Els has spoken of him glowingly.
"He's just got so much talent," Els said last year. "When he gets a break out here, you're going to see the next superstar out of South Africa."
Sunday was more than a break. It was life-changing. Forever, Schwartzel can drive down Magnolia Lane as a Masters champion, assuring himself a seat at the table when tournament champions convene here annually. He'll be exempt into all of the majors for five years, and he's a good candidate now for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
Not that it was any surprise to Rupert, who saw plenty of potential in his countryman.
"I said to [Augusta National member and media chairman] Craig Heatley, you better tell them how to pronounce 'Schwartzel.' Because they're having a hard enough time with 'Oosthuizen,'" Rupert said. "We can't always give you Ernie Els."
Sunday's events assure that the Schwartzel name will not be forgotten.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.