AUGUSTA, April 11 – South African Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win the 75th Masters on Sunday by two strokes over Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day in a dramatic back-nine showdown.Schwartzel’s third birdie in a row was a tension-packed eight-foot putt at the 17th hole that left him needing only to par the 18th to win his first major title at age 26.
Instead, he dropped a 15-footer for birdie to finish off a six-under par 66, the field’s low round. He also made a chip-in birdie at the first and an eagle from the fairway on the third Sunday in playing 72 holes on 14-under par 274.
"It was just a phenomenal day," Schwartzel said. "There were so many roars. The atmosphere out there was incredible."
Schwartzel denied Scott and Day their homeland’s long-sought dream of having an Australian capture a Masters title, the only major crown no player from Down Under has claimed.
"Adam Scott was making birdies and I needed to do something," Schwartzel said. "I made some good iron shots and some good putts."
Australian players have won nine British Opens, four PGA Championships and two US Open titles, but the only one of those that came in the past 15 years was claimed by Ogilvy at the 2006 US Open.
"I don’t think I can ask for anything more," Scott said. "It was great to make a run out there. I just want to get in the mix next time."
Three Aussies have finished second in the Masters – Bruce Crampton in 1972, Jack Newton in 1980 and Greg Norman three times, notably a last-day collapse in 1996 that gave Nick Faldo a third Masters crown.
"I couldn’t do any more than I did out there," Masters debutante Day said after a round of 68. "Adam and I gave our best. Charl just had a little more. To be in the hunt to be the first Aussie to win the Masters was special."
Schwartzel, who made it to Augusta only off his 2010 year-end top 50 world ranking, won 50 years to the day after countryman Gary Player became the first Masters winner from outside America.
"I don’t think I’ve ever done so much praying on a golf course in my life," said Schwartzel, who dedicated the victory to his father and thanked reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen for being an inspiration.
"He inspired me so much to do this and think it’s possible to win a major like this," Schwartzel said.
It was only the second time in 21 years that the Masters winner did not come from the final pairing, Schwartzel in the penultimate group after entering the last round four strokes behind Rory McIlroy, whose last-day 80 doomed his bid.
"I just lost it and couldn’t get it back," McIlroy said. "I’m very disappointed but I will get over it. I have to take away the positives. I led this golf tournament for 63 holes. Maybe it will build some character."
Schwartzel captured a $1.44 million top prize and the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy to pace a tension-packed day of suspense among two fistfuls of golf’s finest.
Scott birdied the par-4 14th to seize a one-stroke lead, overcame a poor chip at the par-5 15th to stay on top, then smashed his tee shot at the par-3 16th three feet from the cup to set up a birdie that gave him a two-shot edge.
Schwartzel answered the challenge with birdies at the par-5 15th and par-3 16th to match Scott atop the leaderboard on 12-under.
Back-to-back Amen Corner birdies by Day at the par-3 12th and par-3 13th put him at 10-under and he birdied the 17th to pull within one.
Scott answered the challenge by draining a 12-foot par putt to stay in a share of the lead but Schwartzel’s fiery finish was too much to overcome.
Tiger Woods closed with a 67 to share fourth with England’s Luke Donald and Aussie Geoff Ogilvy on 278, one shot ahead of Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and two better than South Korean K.J. Choi and American Bo Van Pelt, all of whom were also in the back-nine title fight.
"It was, I imagine, one of the best Masters to watch," Donald said.
Woods lipped out a four-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th that would have given him the lead alone, settling instead for a birdie to share the lead.
Displaying a long-absent putting skill that helped made him a 14-time major champion, Woods played the outward nine in 31 and added to the tension on the leaders on a hot day.
"I was an interested spectator of the Tiger show on the front nine," Ogilvy said. "It was quite nice to listen to the roars."
Woods has not won in 22 events since his infamous sex scandal erupted in November of 2009, has not won the Masters since 2005 and has not won a major since the 2008 US Open.
"I got off to a nice start," Woods said. "On the back nine, I could have capitalized more. I hit it good all day. I’m happy about that."
Ogilvy birdied five holes in a row starting at the 12th.
"I thought I had a chance," Ogilvy said. "It was nice to finish with my best nine holes."
Donald took a double bogey at 12, birdied the 15th and 16th, took a bogey at 17 then chipped in a birdie at 18.
"I dug in deep and came up with some birdies down the stretch but came up short," Donald said. "I gave it my best shot."