AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Australians were headed for a very g’day at the Masters.
The leaderboard was filled with guys from Down Under. When Adam Scott rolled in a short birdie putt at the 16th hole, he had the lead all to himself. Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy were right in the mix, too, just in case Scott faltered.
By shear numbers, the golfing-mad country seemed poised to celebrate the only major championship its never won.
Sorry, mate. The Aussies will have to wait a little longer.
Charl Schwartzel, a 26-year-old South African, put on one of the greatest finishing kicks in major championship history. He birdied the last four holes for a 6-under 66, giving him a two-stroke win over Scott and Day, with Ogilvy four shots back in a tie for fourth.
Scott, especially, seemed heartbroken over having the green jacket – and his first major title – snatched away.
“It’s just disappointing that I didn’t win when I held the lead with a few holes to go,” the 30-year-old said, looking down and struggling to get the words out. “I’m usually a pretty good closer. I didn’t do a bad job today, but Charl was better. It was an incredible finish. I’m proud of the way I played, but I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done when I was right there at the end.”
Scott hurt his chances with a couple of errant shots. He knocked his approach at the par-5 15th far to the right, over near a grandstand, and had to struggle just to get down with par on a hole that provides an excellent chance to make at least a birdie, maybe even an eagle.
Then, after sticking it right up next to the flag at the 16th for a tap-in birdie and the outright lead over Schwartzel, Scott yanked his tee shot at 17 into a bunker next to the seventh green. He did some good work from there, knocking it over the trees and into a greenside bunker at the correct hole, then getting up and down for a par.
Turns out, par wasn’t good enough with the way Schwartzel played down the stretch. Scott had a 20-footer for birdie at the final hole, and he knew he needed it with the South African having claimed the lead at the 17th. He gave it a good roll but it skidded by the cup – and it didn’t matter anyway when Schwartzel made one last birdie at the 18th.
“He must have hit some beautiful shots,” said Scott, who played with Day in the group right in front of Schwartzel. “He’s got a hell of a swing. Certainly he’s a guy when you’re out there playing with him and you see him strike the ball, you take notice because it’s pretty impressive.”
So was Day, who hardly looked like a Masters rookie.
He posted the best round of the tournament on Friday, a 64 that vaulted him into contention, and he never wavered even after struggling on the front side Sunday.
The 23-year-old Day birdied four of the last seven holes, making clutch putts at 17 and 18 that gave him a glimmer of hope until he saw the numbers Schwartzel was posting.
“You can’t do anything about a guy who birdies the last four holes of a tournament,” Day said. “If you want to go out and win a tournament, that’s how you do it.”
Ogilvy, a former U.S. Open champion, surged into contention for another major title by ripping off five straight birdies starting at No. 12.
But he couldn’t keep it going, settling for pars at the last two holes for a 278, tied with Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. That left the Aussies with three of the top six spots on the leaderboard, just not the one they wanted most of all.
“Obviously, we fell short a little bit, but it just shows how good Australian golf is right now,” Day said. “There’s a lot of good Australian golfers.”
That’s nothing new. The continent country has produced nine major champions, led by Peter Thomson with five British Open crowns. In all, the Aussies have won at golf’s Big Four an impressive 15 times, but one title has always eluded them.
At the Masters, they’re known more for misery than triumph – most notably, Greg Norman’s final-round collapse with a seemingly insurmountable lead in 1996.
“You’ve heard some stories about Greg around here,” Day acknowledged.
But he and his mates will be back again in 2012, eager to take another crack at that elusive green jacket.
“I’m not leaving with any regrets because I played my heart out,” Day said. “I’m looking forward to next year. Hopefully it’ll be as exciting as it was this year.”