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On wild final day, Charl Schwartzel comes out of nowhere to win Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods was climbing, and Rory McIlroy was falling.

The Australians were gathering like a storm, and Bo Van Pelt was sneaking in while no one was watching.

For three chaotic hours Sunday afternoon, the staid and tradition-laden Masters looked like a public links free-for-all.

Yet amid all the coming and going, one man remained steady. And when it was all over, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel had completed one of the great closing rounds in majors history with four consecutive birdies to win the 75th Masters.

"It's a dream for me," Schwartzel said. "It's obviously the highlight in my golfing career by a long way."

It was the first U.S. victory for Schwartzel, who learned the game from his father while growing up on a chicken and corn farm outside Johannesburg.

Schwartzel, who came into the tournament ranked No. 29 in the world, had a share of the lead for most of the back nine after McIlroy imploded.

The problem is most of the field seemed to have a share of the lead. Eight different players were on top of the leaderboard at some point Sunday afternoon.

Australia's Adam Scott took a one-shot lead with a birdie on No. 14, but there were six golfers a stroke behind. Scott briefly took a two-shot lead with another birdie at 16, but then Schwartzel, who had made 10 consecutive pars, closed with four birdies.

His 6-under 66 was the best final round by a Masters winner in 22 years.

"He's a very quiet, unassuming guy, and I think he's not prominent in everyone's mind," Scott said of Schwartzel. "But … you must have seen it (Sunday). He hits some beautiful shots. He's got a hell of a golf swing."

There are no fancy electronic leaderboards at Augusta National. They still chart the progress of the Masters by hand with red numbers on giant boards.

So for those in attendance, the quickest way to follow the leaders is to listen for the sound of roars and groans. Which gave Sunday's round the feel of a Holly­wood horror film.

"There are so many roars that go on around Augusta, especially on the back nine," said Schwartzel, who finished at 14-under 274 to win $1,440,000 for his first major championship. "It echoes through those trees.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard. But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at. And I think that sort of helped."

For a short time, it looked as if Australia was going to end decades of heartbreak at Augusta. Scott and fellow Aussies Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy held the lead at various points on the back nine and were poised to end the suffering of a continent of Greg Norman fans.

As it turned out, Scott (67) and Day (68) tied for second, two strokes back, and Ogilvy (67) tied for fourth with Luke Donald (69) and Woods (67), who made an early charge but lost momentum on the back nine.

"Obviously, we fell short a little bit, but it just shows how good Australian golf is right now," Day said. "There's a lot of good Australian golfers."

But Schwartzel, 26, finished the best.

"It was always going to come down to the back nine, who made the birdies coming in," said Schwartzel, who began the day four strokes behind McIlroy. "That's normally what wins any golf tournament, the back nine. It managed to go my way."

Breaking down the back nine

The adage is the Masters doesn't truly begin till the back nine on Sunday. For the 75th Masters, that was clearly the case. The back nines of five key players in Sunday's dramatic finish:

Holeat turn101112131415161718InTotal
Charl Schwartzel-1044354423332-14
Jason Day-844244533332-12
Adam Scott-943353524433-12
Tiger Woods-1044454434436-10
Rory McIlroy-1175554634443-4
Holeat turn101112131415161718InTotal
Charl Schwartzel-1044354423332-14
Jason Day-844244533332-12
Adam Scott-943353524433-12
Tiger Woods-1044454434436-10
Rory McIlroy-1175554634443-4

.Fast facts

Meet Charl Schwartzel

Age: 26Nationality: South African

Born: Aug. 31, 1984, in JohannesburgTurned pro: 2002

Height/weight: 5 feet 11; 140 pounds

Best finish before Masters: Second at 2010 World Golf Championships-CA Championship

International victories: Six — 2005 Dunhill Championship (European Tour); 2006 Vodacom Tour Championship (South Africa's Sunshine Tour); 2007 Open de Espana (European Tour); 2010 Africa Open (European Tour); Joburg Open (European Tour); 2011 Joburg Open (European Tour)

Notable: Schwartzel attended Ernie Els' academy in South Africa. … He's No. 11 in the world rankings. … His second place at the 2010 WGC-CA Championship, along with a top-30 finish in each of the four majors, helped him earn a PGA Tour card. … His father, George, played on the Sunshine Tour in the late 1970s before regaining his amateur status, and his brother Attie plays on the Sunshine Tour. George serves as Charl's only teacher.

On wild final day, Charl Schwartzel comes out of nowhere to win Masters 04/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 12:18am]
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