Sunday, 10 April 2011

Schwartzel The Master Of The Augusta Street-Fight

By Shane Thomas

A nail-biting final day of the Masters in Augusta ended with South African Charl Schwartzel winning his first major title after coming through a cluster of players at the top of the leaderboard to claim the prized Green Jacket.

It's difficult to sum up a final day that had as many sub-plots as a season of The Wire. So let's begin at the top. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy began the day four shots clear and looked set to take his place at the centre of golf's spotlight. But the Ulsterman unravelled on the back nine, dropping five shots on 10, 11 & 12 to fall out of contention. Ending up shooting a round of 80, the disintegration of McIlroy's game became unbearable to watch, especially for a man whose default mode tends to sit somewhere between confidence and exuberance. He confessed later that as he dropped shot after shot his brain "felt like guacamole".

One can only hope that McIlroy will shake off this disappointment as he remains one of the sport's brightest talents. But golf can be the most capricious mistress and towards the end McIlroy ended up looking like a boy who'd lost his mother in a crowded supermarket. You just wanted to give him a hug. He started the final round like Tigger but ended up like Piglet.

Meanwhile we saw a possible return to form for Tiger Woods. He set off like an express train on the front nine. The crowd roared its approval and Tiger roared with them, as he raced to grab share of the lead at the turn. In the end, Tiger was to fall four shots short but a final round of 67 may be the catalyst for him to regain the form that has been absent for over a year.

A special mention should also be given to the Australian pair of Jason Day & Adam Scott, who ended up as Schwartzel's closest challengers at 12 under par. Day was in his debut appearance at Augusta and coped with the pressure admirably for one so inexperienced, while Scott has gradually been shaking off the tag of underachiever that has plagued him for years. His switch to using a belly putter has transformed his game, and his putting was superb throughout.

But the focus should be on Schwartzel. 50 years after the legendary Gary Player became the first South African to win the Masters, Schwartzel is sitting in some fine company. And he deserves to. This was a final day in which the lead changed hands on numerous occasions, with seven men being tied at the top of the leaderboard at one stage. Nerves were tested to their limit and the fight for the Green Jacket became exactly that. A fight. This was a car park scrap in which these men were willing to trample over one another to for the most coveted piece of clothing in sport.

And it was Schwartzel who held his nerve the longest. While the other challengers were left nursing bruises, broken bones and chipped teeth (figuratively speaking), Schwartzel walked away the winner. To the victor the spoils. The South African reeled off four birdies on the last four holes to go from two shots off the lead to winning by that same margin. In such a crowded leaderboard it was always going to be the man who could find the best of himself in the clutch situation who would emerge victorious. That man was Charl Schwartzel. A worthy winner.

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