AUGUSTA, Ga. — The red lapel pin attached to Charl Schwartzel’s black Nike visor identified him as participant 077 at this year’s Masters.
Next year he’ll wear No. 1 — the number assigned to the reigning champ.
Schwartzel emerged from a pack of close to a dozen golfers as the champion by closing the 75th Masters with four straight birdies including a 15-footer on the 72nd hole that brought the gallery to its feet and a wide smile to the face of his wife Rosalind.
“You know, I always thought if there was one [major] that I would win, it would be this one,” said Schwartzel wearing a jacket and no visor. “This is the sort of golf course that suits my eye; the sort of course that I grew up playing on with the tree lines, and I just felt really comfortable around it.”
The trees at Augusta National came alive Sunday afternoon after Schwartzel and seven others claimed at least a share of the lead on the back nine in one of the most exciting — and surprising — Masters.
Schwartzel shot a 6-under-par 66 on Sunday and became the first champion to finish the tournament with four straight birdies. He shot 34 on the front with an eagle on No. 2, holing out from 114 yards with a sand-wedge. Then he reeled off 11 straight pars before his closing with his birdie bonanza.
“I wasn’t losing any ground, but I wasn’t gaining,” Schwartzel said. “[On No. 15] the guys were starting to make birdies, and you know, that was when I really needed to start digging deep to get a birdie out of it.”
Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott were two of the golfers Schwartzel referred to as making birdies on the back nine. They finished tied for second, two shots behind Schwartzel, at 12 under.
Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and Luke Donald tied for fourth at 10 under par. Angel Cabrera finished seventh. Bo Van Pelt and K.J. Choi tied for eighth.
At 5:15 in the evening, as the sun began descending in the direction of the fourth hole, five players were tied for the lead at 10 under. But third-round leader Rory McIlroy wasn’t even close.
“It just seemed like that on nearly every hole, there was a scream from another hole,” said the 23-year-old Day, who closed with a 32 on the back for a 4-under-par round. “It was very exciting out there today. And the crowd makes it 100 times more because just everyone is screaming and it’s a lot of fun.”
McIlroy had much less fun Sunday than he did earlier in the week learning to throw a football. He bogeyed the first hole and turned at 1 over. A triple-bogey on No. 10 and a bogey and a double followed on the next two holes as he tumbled off the leaderboard.
Scott, playing three groups ahead of McIlroy, grabbed his share of the lead with a birdie on No. 14 and owned it alone at 11 under after coming within a foot of a hole-in-one with a 7-iron on No. 16.
“I was trying not to look at leaderboards too much, but it’s easy to figure out with the roars and groans and stuff what’s going on out there,” Scott said. “I played well today, and that’s all I could ask for. I hung in there as long as I could.
“To be in the mix is everything I’ve dreamed of.”
Schwartzel made his dream come true by chasing down Woods, passing Ogilvy — who made five birdies in a row — and holding off Day and Scott, who waited behind the 18th green to see if they’d win, go to a playoff or shake hands with Schwartzel.
“I was an interested spectator of the Tiger show on the front nine because he was in the group in front, and you hear all the noises,” Ogilvy said. “You never know what’s possible around here.
“You’ve seen it done before.”
But nobody has done it like Schwartzel, who had defending champion Phil Mickelson place a green jacket on his shoulder in the traditional ceremony at dusk.
“You look at the leaderboard, there was a whole bunch of guys that could have won today,” Schwartzel said. “It was always going to come down to back nine, who made birdies coming in.”
No. 1 finished with four.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...