In my 20 years covering the Masters with CBS, I’d have to say that this year’s tournament was the most exciting I’ve ever witnessed. I played in three Masters Tournaments myself and each one was thrilling for me personally. In terms of final day drama, I’m not sure one could have asked for more than what we saw last week at Augusta National.
Here’s how I would summarize what I saw during Sunday’s final round.
Tiger started the final round 7 strokes behind the 54-hole leader, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy. Tiger had never won any of his 14 majors trailing going into the final round. After birdies at 6 and 7 and an eagle at 8, Tiger was tied for the lead at 10 under par. Regardless of how one might think of Tiger these days, you just couldn’t deny that there was a special feeling about what he was doing. I then made the statement on the air that -12 was the magic number. At least, so it seemed to me at the time.
Jason Day was paired with fellow Aussie, Adam Scott in the next-to-last group. Surprisingly, no Aussie has ever won the Masters. Unthinkable really when you think about how close Greg Norman came time after time at Augusta. Day and Scott both got off to solid starts in the final round, and when they both birdied 13, they too were tied for the lead. Scott went on to birdie 14 and 16 to take a two-stroke lead.
South African Charl Schwartzel started the final round tied for 2nd at 8 under par. He had spent some time two weeks before the Masters with my good friend and fellow Champion’s Tour player, David Frost. Frosty had given Charl a few tips. One was related to how he was gripping the driver. The second tip was specific to short downhill putts. In his post-tournament interview, Charl thanked our mutual friend which I thought was quite classy.
Charl’s final round started off a little shaky after his approach shot to number one ended up right of the green. This left Charl with a most difficult chip from 85 feet up a huge slope. He chipped it in! You had to see it to believe it. I remarked on my show “In Depth”, “This could be an ‘Omen’.” Charl later holed a wedge for his second shot at the par 4, 3rd hole to tie for the lead with McIlroy. I commented, “That’s the kind of start he dreamed of . . . it really might be his day!” After a 3 putt on the next hole from 70 feet, Charl dropped out of the lead but played really steady golf, carding 11 straight pars. He found himself tied for the lead while McIlroy, sadly, self-destructed. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a young, star player struggle on the final day of a major. The pressure to perform and win the coveted “first major” proved to be beyond Rory on Sunday. The back 9 of a major really tests a player’s ability to trust their swing and play, dare I say it, one stroke at a time. I felt that Rory was “overly focused” on winning rather than executing to the best of his ability. You really don’t control winning. Just play great golf and see how you do.
As for Tiger, he failed to rally and after a bogey at 12 and failing to birdie the short par 5, 13th, Tiger was falling back. He would eventually tie for 4th. Disappointing for Tiger, but shots like his second on the par-5, 15th leave me believing he is on his way back and that he can make this “4th Swing Style Change” work for him too.
23-year-old Jason Day, who had played with McIlroy in the first three rounds, played solidly all day and then grinded out two final birdies on 17 and 18 to reach 12 under and tie fellow countryman Adam Scott for the clubhouse lead at 12 under par. The Aussies were looking good until Schwartzel, holed another 15-footer for birdie at 17 to take the lead by one.
My observation of Schwartzel, who, unbeknownst to many Americans, was heralded in his homeland as a superstar while still an amateur, was centered and grounded in his emotions and looking comfortable with his surroundings. This sounds simple enough, but I can assure you it is an important component of peak performance, especially in a major.
I spent a lot of time with David Frost the days following the tournament as we were roommates in the next Champion’s Tour event. David told me of Charl’s Christian faith that was the source of his “calm” at the Masters and that it was a huge help to him to be playing with another calm and focused Christian, KJ Choi in that final round.
KJ is the best golfer South Korea has ever produced and a passionate Christian. He was introduced to Christ in December of 1992 when he started dating his wife. He says, “My belief and faith in God is very strong now.” His charitable foundation has helped victims of Hurricane Ike, visually impaired children, survivors of the Haitian earthquake, and he recently gave $100,000 to the American Red Cross to assist the victims of Japan’s disaster.
David then told me that Charl’s idol is a South African farmer named Angus Buchan, who “gave his life to God.” Having never heard of him, I asked David to explain. “Mr. Buchan was a farmer who was displaced by fighting in his native Zambia and forced to move to South Africa. There he began Shalom Ministries in 1980; he has become a full-time evangelist in his adopted country. He wrote a book about his life, titled Faith Like Potatoes (it was made into a feature-length movie in 2006). The point of the title: faith in God, like potatoes, grows unseen until the harvest.
Needing a par at the last to win the Masters, Charl striped a driver right down the middle. The photos included here reveal how well Charl lags the club on his downswing and uses his workhorse (pivot) to deliver the club into a dynamic impact. This is textbook! Charl has both a great quantity of lag (which explains why he is pretty long) and great quality, which is evidenced by the amount of forward shaft lean at impact. Congrats to Charl for being the first Masters Champion to birdie the last four holes. What a win!