A Perfect Sunday at Augusta
Kevin Currie, Golf Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
What more could you ask for from a final round in a major championship?
Tiger Woods back in contention and sharing the lead on the back nine. It all felt so right. It was as captivating an exhibition of golf as there has been since Woods dismantled the field at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open.
But, there's always a BUT. Woods wasn't the only one putting on a major- championship worthy performance. Along with Woods, there were two other major champions in the mix, as well as five would-be major champions.
The top five on the final leaderboard combined to shoot 25-under par. That is tremendous in a normal PGA Tour event. At a Augusta, in a major championship, that is out-of-this world good golf.
This was the Ali-Frazier trilogy rolled into one. This was Royal Rumble No. who knows, I stopped watching when it was still the WWF. In the end, it felt more like Douglas-Tyson.
Eight men with at least share of the lead in the final round of the Masters. There hasn't been that jumbled a leaderboard at Augusta since 2007, when Zach Johnson won by two shots over three players.
Let's take a look at the eight men, starting with the third-round leader and ending with the eventual champion, Charl Schwartzel.
This was supposed to be Rory McIlroy's day. He started the round with a four- stroke lead and was all set to join countryman Graeme McDowell as a major champion.
His lead was gone quickly, but it wasn't until the back nine that his game abruptly left him. CBS was gracious enough not to show the entire meltdown, but McIlroy was more than gracious in granting post-round interviews and even answered a few tweets.
How many on this leaderboard would have done that?
Then there were three Australians - Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and Jason Day - in contention.
Ogilvy, the winner of three World Golf Championships and the 2006 U.S. Open, poured in five straight birdies from the 12th to get himself into the mix.
You've all heard it before, but they say the Masters doesn't really start until the back nine on Sunday. Ogilvy may have taken the saying a touch to literally this week.
Scott was at one-time heir to the throne of Greg Norman as the best Australian golfer on the planet. The 30-year-old has won seven times on the PGA Tour and seven more on the European Tour.
He has been scuffling with his game and mostly with his putting, hence the long putter. Scott put up back-to-back 67s on the weekend at Augusta. Many times that would work, but Schwartzel matched Scott's weekend total of 134.
The 23-year-old Day played alongside Scott in the final round. It was a comfortable pairing for both and Day showed off his game with birdies on 17 and 18 to get to 12-under.
Earlier in the round, Day missed a short putt with roars from the crowd on another hole erupting in the middle of his putting stroke. If that putt had fallen, who knows what happens the final few holes.
K.J. Choi played with the champion in the penultimate group. The steely Korean was in the mix early on the back nine, but faded.
Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champ and 2007 U.S. Open winner, was also tied for the lead around the turn. Cabrera's putter let him down on the back nine.
And then there were two.
Woods, who seems to have trouble of late following one good round with another, at varying times either looked out of contention, or like he was about to run away with this fifth green jacket.
He followed birdies on six and seven with an eagle on the eighth. That got him within one of the lead, but it felt like mere moments before he would be alone atop the leaderboard.
A three-putt bogey on 12, his second three-putt of the round, seemed to mark the end of Woods' great run. He missed a birdie chance on 14 that would have given him a piece of the lead.
Woods hit a stellar approach at the 15th, but his four-foot eagle putt lipped out. Instead of grabbing the lead, Woods was merely tied at 10-under after a kick-in birdie. He missed another birdie try on 16, from about 15 feet, and that marked the end of Woods' chances.
That leaves us with the champion. Charl Schwartzel. Not many have heard of this South African before Sunday, but he did have top-20 finishes in the final three majors last year and had six European Tour victories to his credit.
He grabbed a share of the lead early with a chip-in birdie on the first and a hole-out eagle on the third. He was right there the whole time, but pars from the fifth to the 14th helped others forget he was there.
Schwartzel then birdied the last four holes to polish off a six-under 66, which was good for a two-shot win. Before that, guess how many have birdied the last four holes at the Masters to win? You got it, NONE.
He came from four strokes back after 54 holes to earn his first major championship title. The last person to come from four back and win? Jack Nicklaus, twenty-five years earlier in his final major win.
The week began with a line of violent storms that took down trees all over the area near the course, including a few at Augusta National. The week ended with those same trees rattling from the roars of the crowd thanks to a scintillating final round.
MCILROY STANDS UP IN DEFEAT
In the game of golf, it's never good to have your name as part of a conversation with Jean Van de Velde and Greg Norman.
Overcoming crushing defeats like those two can make or break a person.
Rory McIlroy closed with an eight-over 80 Sunday at the Masters to tumble from the lead into a share of 15th. You don't have to go that far back to find a 54-hole leader that struggled that badly to close a tournament.
Dustin Johnson shot 82 in the final round to lose last year's U.S. Open, but bounced back later in the season and was right there til the end at the PGA Championship and later won the BMW Championship.
How will McIlroy come back? Only time will tell, but he's said all the right things on Sunday.
"I thought I hung in pretty well the front nine today. I was leading the tournament going into the back nine," McIlroy said. "I just hit a poor tee shot on 10 and I just sort of unraveled from there. I just sort of lost it on 10, 11, 12 and couldn't really get it back.
"I'm very disappointed at the minute, and I'm sure I will be for the next few days, but I'll get over it. I've got to take the positives, and the positives were I led this golf tournament for 63 holes."
Well said Rory. He'll be back on the leaderboard in no time.
- Shame on Augusta officials for not letting a Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record into the locker room for post-round interviews on Sunday.
- Congrats to amateur Hideki Matsuyama for winning the Silver Cup, as top amateur finisher. Matsuyama, the reigning Asian amateur champion, shared 27th at minus-one in his first Masters appearance.