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Schwartzel follows Players lead 50 years on

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Charl Schwartzel marked the 50th anniversary of Gary Player’s breakthrough first international win at the Masters with another South African triumph, but the moment was probably missed by most people back home.

When Schwartzel sunk his birdie putt on the 18th at Augusta National, it was almost 1 a.m. in his home city of Johannesburg.

Schwartzel won at 14 under, two shots clear of the Australian pair, and 50 years to the day after Player became the first non-American to wear the green jacket, seven of the top 10 in 2011 hailed from outside the U.S.

On Monday, South Africa will wake to its third Masters champion after three-time winner Player and Trevor Immelman, who won in 2008, and even if most of the country was fast asleep for the 26-year-old Schwartzel’s biggest career win so far, at least Player recognized the feat.

“I am absolutely delighted for Charl and South Africa. Congratulations and very well done to him. That is how you finish like a champion!” Player wrote on Twitter.

While Australia is still searching for its elusive first Masters champion, Schwartzel’s victory made South Africa the most successful country, apart from the United States, at Augusta National. South Africans have won five Masters titles.

“Really happy for Charl!!!” 2008 champion Immelman said on his Twitter page. “Going to be nice to have some South African food at the Champions Dinner again next year,” he added, in reference to the tradition of the defending champion choosing the menu for the subsequent Masters champions’ dinner.

After waiting 25 years for a first international winner, foreigners have now won three of the last four Masters titles. But it remains the only major never won by an Australian.

Websites of Australian newspapers were quick to report on yet another Masters opportunity lost.

“Schwartzel shatters Aussie Masters dream” reported national daily The Australian, while the Sydney Morning Herald said “Australia’s long history of heartache at Augusta National has continued.”

The Daily Telegraph in Sydney said “Australia has suffered its share of Masters heartbreak, but today will rank with one of the most agonizing.

“Just as their mutual hero Greg Norman did three times previously, Adam Scott and Jason Day have been relegated to joint second place by another freaky back-nine performance.”

Swimmers at Sunrise Beach north of Brisbane, Australia had gathered at a surf lifesaving hut to watch the televised proceedings with the lifeguards, groaning their way back to the ocean when the South African clinched victory with four closing birdies.

There was a special interest in this part of Australia – Scott grew up in Queensland state, living at times north and south of Brisbane. Day was born in Beaudesert, just southwest of the city.

Also vying for Australia’s first green jacket as Masters champion was 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy, who finished with 67 and was tied for fourth with Tiger Woods and England’s Luke Donald.

One interested observer Down Under was Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles for Australia on the tennis court.

Her husband, Roger Cawley, got up at 4:30 a.m. to watch most of the final round, Goolagong Cawley about an hour later.

Their son, Morgan, went to school with Scott and the two played doubles tennis together.

“We were pulling for Adam but anytime a guy shoots four birdies in a row to finish the Masters, he deserves to win,” said Goolagong Cawley.