Charl Schwartzel once again proved the person who said “you drive for show and putt for dough” was spot on when it came to summing up the great game of golf.
Schwartzel birdied his final four holes on Sunday at Augusta, with only one of those (#15) close enough not to sweat over, and pulled away from a jammed leaderboard to claim the most exciting Masters since Nicklaus won his 6th green jacket in 1986. This back nine effort from Schwartzel, though, was just as impressive as what Jack did 25 years ago because there was no room for error. While Nicklaus went on his back nine rampage, others around him – Ballesteros, Kite, Norman – were hitting balls in the water (Ballesteros), missing the 18th green en route to bogey (Norman) and badly whiffing an 8-foot birdie putt that would have sent the event to a playoff (Kite).
Those in contention on Sunday’s back nine in 2011 didn’t do much except make birdies and eagles. No one – except Rory McIlroy – collapsed. Schwartzel won this golf tournament, others didn’t hand it to him.
And Schwartzel won it with his putter, rolling in a 15-footer at 16, a 10-footer at 17 and a jacket-clinching 15-footer at 18 when a two-putt would have sufficed.
Those who charged through the Georgia pines on the back nine also did it with their putter, including Jason Day who went birdie-birdie to finish and claim a tie for 2nd and Geoff Ogilvy, who birdied five straight (12 through 16) to momentarily tie for the lead. Years from now, folks will probably forget that Bo Van Pelt, with two eagles on the back nine, was also at -10 and tied for the lead with about 45 minutes left.
But just before you started thinking that this year’s Masters looked more like a January event in Tucson with more birdies than TV commercial breaks, along came Rory McIlroy to remind us all that it’s a hard game and if you stop delivering the goods, you get embarrassed.
McIlroy bogeyed the first hole, then the 5th, and completely unraveled on the 10th hole with a triple-bogey 7 at #10 and a bunch of 3 putts on the back nine en-route to a final round 80 and a -4 total.
And that’s Augusta, where birdies and eagles are also available for guys who hit great shots and make a lot of putts. But it’s also a place where you can make bogey on every hole if you don’t hit it in the right spot on the green.
Schwartzel is a no-name to people who don’t follow golf. But if you actually know the TOUR and the European circuit, you’re not completely surprised by his win on Sunday. He’s a Trevor Immelman clone. You remember Immelman, right? He’s the South African who won in 2008. Like his fellow countryman, Schwartzel drives it straight, hits it on the green and then lets his putter do the talking. Nothing fancy, really. But effective, for sure.
Tiger Woods fired and fell back on Sunday, with a front nine 31 that gave him a share of the lead heading to the back nine. But the great one couldn’t finish the job, three-putting #12 with a woeful stab at a 30 inch putt that led to bogey and a 5-handicap 7-iron into the 13th green that left him with a nearly impossible up and down for birdie. That par at 13 and his inability to sweep in a 4-footer for eagle at #15 will haunt him this morning as he thinks about how another green jacket slipped away. In the end, Woods finished at -10 and four shots back, but he was much closer to winning than it would appear, as he missed six putts within 5 feet over the weekend. And that’s where Tiger’s game is today. His golf swing, much to his credit, appears about as fine tuned as it has been in two or three years. But his putting is a shadow of what it used to be. And that’s how you lose tournaments.
And you win the way Charl Schwartzel did, by hitting it close enough on the treacherous Augusta greens to give your putter a chance to save you.