There was only thing could steal the headlines away from Rory McIlroy’s stunning collapse on the final day of the Masters – an exciting conclusion with a deserving winner.
Enter: Charl Schwartzel.
In one of the most thrilling Sundays performances at Augusta National in recent memory, Schwartzel won the hearts and minds of the attending spectators as he became the first Masters champion to close out with four straight birdies. A final putt from 20 feet -- that ended up curling into the hole for a 6-under-66 -- became the cherry on top of the young South African star’s excellent showing. It also marked the best closing round from a player in the last 22 years.
Initially, it looked like this may end up being the beginning of Tiger Woods’ comeback tour. The most polarizing golfer in the sport erased a seven-shot deficit in nine holes, only to go flat on the back nine. However, the sight of Woods fist-pumping his way back into the running throughout the day was enough to gain the attention of onlookers.
Then came the embarrassing collapse of 21-year-old McIlroy, who offered up one of the all-time great choke jobs seen at this level of play. Barely leading by one shot going into the back nine, McIlroy hit a tee shot to the cabins left of the 10th fairway. And he followed that dazzling display with a three-putt from 7 feet for a bogey on the 11th and four-putted from nearly 12 feet on the next hole.
McIlroy finally seemed to realize the epic proportions of his awful day as he laid his head into his forearms shortly thereafter. When all was said and done, he shot an 80 – the highest final round by the 54-hole leader since a 1956 outing by Ken Venturi. Further, he became the first golfer since Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie to blow a minimum four-shot lead going into the last round of a major.
At some point during the back nine, eight players had at least a share of the lead.
Schwartzel, the eventual winner, hit a pivotal 10-foot birdie at the 17th to secure a lead all for himself for the first time on Sunday.
With South Africans now having won two of the last three majors, this victory seemed all the more fitting coming on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player becoming the first international player to win the Masters.
Afterwards, Player had this to say via Twitter:
''I am absolutely delighted for Charl and South Africa. Congratulations and very well done to him. That is how you finish like a champion!''