2011: Surprising win — and brutal loss

This was a Masters, it seemed, that nobody deserved to win. One in which numerous players had their shot — if you include the tragic figure of the Northern Irishman who began the day leading the field before calamity set in. And in the long run, through some inscrutable threshing about, the one who should have won it, did.

Meet Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa and a town named Vereeniging, and a graduate of the Sunshine Tour. Also, not to be overlooked, the third South African to be enveloped in the hallowed green jacket of a Masters champion. You check his final report card and you understand how and why Schwartzel prevailed in the 75th Masters at Augusta National.

He chipped in for birdie on the first hole, eagled the par-4 third, turned in 34 and finished with a string of four birdies, the final from about 15 feet to put a sterling finish to his 66, and his four rounds of 274 championship golf. Charl is 26, holds a private pilot’s license and three times has won the Order of Merit, championship of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour. And, let it not be overlooked that he is the third South African winner of this American jewel, following Gary Player, of historic proportions, and Trevor Immelman, of 2008.

Schwartzel came on the international scene only a couple of years ago when he finished second — to Ernie Els — in the World Championship at Doral in Florida.

And this is only his second Masters. The amazing thing is, he slipped into championship perspective only late in the day after the lead had been bandied about like a political balloon.

We begin at the beginning, when Tiger Woods seemed to have renewed his grasp on the game. He turned the front nine in 31 and had the galleries rocking. Then his fate took a dull turn and his touch vaporized.

He birdied only one hole on the back nine, and the traffic blew by, leaving him in its dust.

He finished in a tie for fourth, with his better-than-respectable 67, but Schwartzel whizzed by with a round of 66, Jason Day slipped in on a round of 68, and Adam Scott, who appeared to have it in his grasp, finished in a tie for second with Day at 276. Schwartzel’s final score of 274 gave him a two-stroke margin, by which time the galleries had finally taken notice. ...

It now grieves me to bring attention to Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old from Holywood in Ulster.

The bright young chap had led the field for three days and appeared to have it in hand. And through the first nine holes was steady as it went, but the most inscrutable thing happened on the 10th hole, playing down along the Presidential cottage and Bobby Jones’ cottage residence in his day.

McIlroy’s shots flew right and left, and, by the time he was through, he had triple-bogeyed the 10th. His score ballooned to 80, and it was an embarrassing sight as he and Angel Cabrera, a former champion, had to play out their finish after the game was done. This was a day that will leave a deep mark on the young Irishman, who had led the field for three days.

It was, if I may be allowed the freedom to say, one of the strangest Masters I have ever seen. Strange swings from one seeming champion to another.

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