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We've all Learned to Spell Charl Schwartzel
Great, just great! Charl Schwartzel won the Masters. I don't even know how to spell Charl Schwartzel! I'm not even sure he knows how to spell Charl Schwartzel. My spell-checker is working overtime warning me to correct it. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Every casual fan will mispronounce it, which is good actually, it will keep them from mispronouncing Martin Kaymer's and Louis Oosthuizen's. [It's KIGH-mur and WEST-hay-zen].
Nevertheless, with a gallant back-nine charge including birdies on the last four holes, South Africa's - wait for it, Charl Schwartzel - fired a sizzling 66 to snatch the 75th Masters Tournament, foiling a resurgent Tiger Woods and Adam Scott in the process. He donned the green jacket and took home his first major golf championship while almost a dozen other players did their best to shrink from the moment.
"I've never heard a roar like that for me, ever," admitted Schwartzel, talking about his stunning chip-in for birdie at the first hole.
If he thought that was loud, was he ever in for a life experience! When he holed out a sand wedge on the third hole for an eagle two, the roar in response was '86-esque.
Indeed it was a magical day, with more back-nine, final-round excitement than even so many of the epic Masters battles of days gone by. As such, it took an astonishing confluence of dreadful golf shots to move the spotlight to the new South African star in time for the green jacket ceremony. Rory McIlroy looked to make the day a coronation and coming-out party, but after an indifferent 1-over 37 on the front, he made chopped salad out of the back nine, starting with a ghastly triple-bogey seven at 10. On the that hole alone, he hit Butler Cabin, a scoreboard and a tree. He looked more like the Daily News' golf writer Hank Gola out there with some of those shots.
"This is my 61st Masters and I've never seen anyone hit it where Rory hit it on 10," quipped Texas philosopher and iconic golf writer Dan Jenkins.
McIlroy followed that head-scratcher with a bogey at 11 and double-bogey at 12. Was this the Masters or the Metropolitan Area Golf Writers summer outing? He was the only player in the top 17 to fail to break par. And when he broke, he broke hard and gagged.
"I'll get over it," he mumbled despondently. "I've got to take the positives and the positives were I led this golf tournament for 63 holes."
Yeah, but major championships start on the back nine Sunday. Learning experience or not, this one will hurt. You have to close the deal with a four-shot lead going into the final round of a major.
His collapse opened the door for a massive logjam of players, almost a dozen of which jockeyed back and forth within two shots of the lead all day, including Tiger Woods. If McIlroy will hurt over this loss, then Woods will agonize. He did the unthinkable - he surged into contention by blistering the front nine, the much harder side, then faltered on an inward nine that was set up to facilitate Sunday charges. While in the thick of contention, he missed two tiny but crucial putts - three feet or less - at 12 and 15 which prevented him from seizing the outright lead after starting the day seven back.
He'll look back at his even-par 36 on the back nine and rightfully cringe. Woods miraculously put himself in a tie for the lead with an epic rally - "he passed five continents in eight holes," as one writer put it - then uncharacteristically fizzled in the clutch. A good back nine and he not only runs away with the tournament, but he flirts with breaking the major championship and Masters single-round record.
The "Old" Woods would have fed off the energy of that electric front nine. He'd have kicked it into overdrive, ran past everyone like they were standing still, and turned the tournament into a rout by the 16th tee. Old Woods would have done something outlandish like making birdie at 10, 11 or 12 - making one of the hardest holes on the course look like a pushover in the process - then playing 13 and 15 a combined 3-under on his way to a 63, winning a major and tying (again), the single-round major championship scoring record.
The "New" Woods is just inconsistent enough to make a mistake. He hasn't been able to put it all together for four rounds, which is what you must do to win majors. When New Tiger has his driver and irons locked in, his putter rebels. Those two missed shorties coming home were unthinkable with Old Tiger. Then when his putter gets hot, he gets wild tee-to-green. Tiger has become human.
Woods has still never come from behind on Sunday to win a major championship. It was no less a personage than Tom Landry, iconic coach of the Dallas Cowboys, who said, "in order to be considered a truly great champion, you have to do two things: 1) defeat a team you were not supposed to beat, and 2) lead your team to victory with a last-second, come from behind rally."
Angel Cabrera, a two-time major champion and 2009 Masters champion, also left the green jacket somewhere out on the course. Flirting with the lead all day, he mired himself in a quandary of missed opportunities. A missed putt here, a misfired iron there, Cabrera's round died of 1,000 tiny cuts.
Only Adam Scott did his best to go out and take this Masters. His back nine charge had every female golf fan breathless with infatuation - especially since he's no longer lost in Kate Hudson's bed sheets. With a birdie at 16, set up by an exact clone of Jack Nicklaus's famous birdie in 1986, he had a one-shot lead with two to play.
Then Schwartzel flat out raced past him to break the tape at the end. "I've got nothing but positives to take from this week. I wasn't even supposed to be here. This feels good," smiled the affable Aussie.
He's right, and it's nice to have him back.
It was Charl in Charge. He's only a second year pro, but he's already making an impact. Before his hometown fans he won the European Tour's Joburg Open in South Africa. He won five more European Tour events. Playing in America this year, he finished second at Doral and third in Houston.
As for his name? No problem - with all his recent success, I'm sure he's earned enough to buy a vowel or two, along with enough champagne to last from now until Congressional. So until next time, as Mel Brooks said in Spaceballs, "May the Schwartz be with youuuuuuuuuuuuu!"
News & Notes
European Tour stars have won the last four majors (Graeme MacDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and now Schwartzel).
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.