One in a series of previews for the April 6-9 Masters
By Gary Van Sickle
My vote for The Greatest Forgotten Shot in Masters History is not what you might expect.
The other double eagles – after Gene Sarazen’s incomparable 2 at the 15th in 1935 – made by Jeff Maggert (at 13), Bruce Devlin (at 8) or Louis Oosthuizen (at 2)? No. Jeff Sluman’s ace at the par-3 fourth? That is one of my favorites, but no.
Hint: My Greatest Forgotten Shot in Masters History was struck by the eventual champion … on the first hole of the final round … six years ago.
You surely remember South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel winning that 2011 Masters with birdies on the final four holes. What a finish. You probably don’t recall how he started that last round.
The smooth-swinging Schwartzel hit a perfect drive off the first tee, then blocked a 6-iron approach into the gallery short of the green. He appeared to be leaking oil already, and he wasn’t going to catch 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy that way.
Schwartzel then used that 6-iron again for a long chip-and-run shot that trundled across the green as if it had eyes and dropped into the cup for a stunning, unlikely birdie, saving Schwartzel at least two shots.
“I left myself about the most difficult chip you can find in Augusta,” Schwartzel said. “Anything within 10 feet would have been fantastic. The ball started off nicely on the high side. Then I saw K.J. Choi walk forward and stop, and when he stopped, I knew he must see something. It went right in the middle of the hole. That was one of those things where you’re like, Wow, this might just be my day.”
There was something else about the shot that gave Schwartzel that feeling. He’d been practicing chipping with a 6-iron, bump-and-run shots, for two months in preparation for the Masters.
“They cut the grass into you, so you can’t get the spin on the ball with a lob wedge,” Schwartzel said. “You have to find a different way to bump it with a sand wedge or pitching wedge. I found if I could get something on the ground quicker, I could control it better. So, I started practicing with a 6-iron and became really confident with it. On that specific shot, it was where all the people had been standing, so I had some sand and pebbles coming through the grass. There was no way to use a sand wedge. It was perfect for a 6-iron.”
You can’t claim his amazing hole-out was the stroke that won the Masters for him. There were 17 more holes to play, but it took the edge off his nerves. He hit a great drive at the second hole, hit a 6-iron onto the par-5 green and three-putted for par. “I was like, What a waste of that first hole!” Schwartzel said.
Then he holed out from the fairway for eagle 2 on the short par-4 third hole and was back to his original thought: Hey, it is my day!
Schwartzel made his first three-putt bogey of the week at the par-3 fourth hole. From there on, though, “I played great,” said Schwartzel, who broke out of a pack of big-name contenders with his stunning finish in what ranks among the most exciting Masters conclusions of this century.
“People talk about the four-birdie finish, but I remember that first hole,” Schwartzel said. “There were so many guys in contention that day. Everyone was taking the lead. All the guys were making birdies. I remember playing phenomenal golf tee-to-green. It was amazing all the way to 18. To make putts at 15, 16, 17 and 18, it was awesome.”
It was an unforgettable finish after a start that we shouldn’t forget, either.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle