In one of the most exciting and closely contested golf tournaments in recent memory, Charl Schwartzel won the first of the four major championships, the Masters, by two shots over Jason Day and Adam Scott.
No fewer than eight players held a share of the lead at some point during the drama-filled final round, which left announcers and fans alike wondering who would win until almost 7 p.m. on Sunday night.
If you haven't heard of Charl Schwartzel before, you're not alone. Schwartzel, a 26-year-old hailing from South Africa, had not won an event on the PGA Tour before capturing the 75th Masters on Sunday. After winning the Masters in only his second career start, Schwartzel jumped a full 18 spots, from 29th to 11th, in the World Golf Rankings.
Rory McIlroy, the leader after each of the first three rounds, folded like one of the many lawn chairs stationed throughout Augusta National on Sunday afternoon. The 21-year-old Irishman, hoping to become the second-youngest Masters winner in history (the youngest being Tiger Woods in 1997), got off to a shaky start but was still tied for the lead heading into the back nine.
However, a triple-bogey on the par-4 10th hole, followed by a bogey and a double-bogey on holes 11 and 12 respectively, all but ended his dream. McIlroy, who only posted three total bogies during his first three rounds, shot an 8-over 80 to finish tied for 15th, a full ten shots off the pace set by the champion.
Despite posting the highest final round for a 54-hole leader in a major championship since Ken Venturi in 1954, Rory McIlroy remained optimistic. After his round the young Irishman said Sunday was, "a character-building day … I'll come out stronger for it."
McIlroy is barely old enough to buy a beer at Kelly's and he has already collected four top-10 finishes in major championships. He has been penned as the next super-star in golf for years now, and he played like it for 63 holes this weekend. Although Woods and the rest of the field bested him on Sunday, the fans showed their appreciation and gave McIlroy a standing ovation as he left the course.
Schwartzel got off to a sizzling start, chipping in for birdie on the first hole and spinning his second shot on the par-4 third hole into the cup for an eagle. After bogeying his next hole, Schwartzel was able to grind out 10 straight pars to stay within striking distance of the leaders.
After this stretch the South-African arrived at the 15th tee trailing then-leader Adam Scott by only one shot. The par-5 15th, dubbed "Fire Thorn," was the easiest hole all day, yielding a birdie or better to almost half of the players. Schwartzel certainly found the hole less than thorny, sinking a birdie putt to keep pace with Scott. He would go on to birdie the final four holes, the first person ever to clinch the Masters in such a fashion.
But despite Schwartzel's solid play, the eyes and ears of most golf fans were focused on Tiger Woods. The most exciting player in golf history, who started the day seven shots behind the leader, exploded out of the gates and after 10 holes he was 5-under for the day, 10-under for the tournament, and tied for the lead.
The stage was set for Woods to reclaim his throne atop the golfing world and prove that he was the man to beat once again. But the script would not play out in Woods' favor this time. After briefly capturing a share of the lead with eight holes to go, he missed several makeable putts, a trend that had plagued him all week. He shot even par on the back nine to finish tied for 4th.
After his much-publicized troubles, Woods' performance this weekend was certainly a step in the right direction. But Tiger has lost his intimidation factor and mental edge. Until he wins again we will all be left asking ourselves: Will Tiger Woods ever really be Tiger Woods again?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes. But he may face tougher competition than ever before.