Charl Schwartzel (left) of South Africa receives his green jacket from Phil Mickelson of the US after winning the 2011 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on Sunday. Shaun Best / Reuters
The finishing touch of a most amazing Masters was Charl Schwartzel slipping into a green jacket. Until that moment late Sunday afternoon, everything else at Augusta National was up for grabs.
The roars came from everywhere, for everyone, and never stopped.
Tiger Woods made up a seven-shot deficit in nine holes - too bad it was the front nine. Geoff Ogilvy ran off five straight birdies. Rory McIlroy matched the greatest collapse in Masters history with a stretch of holes not even Greg Norman would want to watch.
It was so wild that eight players had at least a share of the lead on the back nine.
Schwartzel emerged from all this madness with a magical touch of his own. He became the first Masters champion in its 75-year history to finish with four straight birdies, giving him a 6-under 66 for the best final round by a winner in 22 years.
The green jacket ceremony wasn't so much a celebration as a chance for everyone to catch their breath.
"There's so many roars that go on around Augusta," Schwartzel said. "Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There's always a roar. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at the leaderboard."
At times, it was nearly impossible to keep up.
There was a five-way lead at the top at one point, and only the final hour sorted it all out.
Schwartzel didn't have the lead to himself until he knocked in a 3-meter birdie putt on the 17th hole, then put just the right touch on a memorable Sunday with one final birdie putt that only counted toward the final margin.
He won by two shots over Adam Scott and Jason Day, a pair of Australians who didn't drop a single shot on the back nine.
"Just an exciting day," Schwartzel said. "So many roars, and that atmosphere out there was just incredible. A phenomenal day."
Indeed, this final round had it all.
There was the fist-pumping charge by Tiger Woods that was slowed by two putts he missed from inside 1 meter. There was Luke Donald, dumping his tee shot into the pond at No 12 only to make four birdies over the last six holes, chipping in on the last one.
And then there was McIlroy, whose 80 in the final round might be remembered as much for the classy way he handled it all.
Still leading by one shot as he headed to the back nine, McIlroy hit a tee shot next to the cabins left of the 10th fairway and twice hit a tree to make triple bogey. He three-putted from 2 meters for a bogey on the 11th, four-putted from about 4 meters on the next hole and buried his head into his forearm as the shock began to settle in.
McIlroy had the highest final round by a 54-hole leader since Ken Venturi in 1956. Not since Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie had someone lost at least a four-shot lead going into the last round of a major.
"It's never nice to be leading a tournament and do what I did today," McIlroy said.
On the course he looked as though he wanted to hide. After the round, he looked everyone in the eye and answered every question.
The steady hand came from Schwartzel, whose only bogey came on the fourth hole as this Masters was just getting warmed up. He made par on 10 consecutive holes when he began his great run.
Schwartzel got up-and-down from behind the 15th green for a birdie to briefly tie for the lead, only for Scott to stuff his tee shot close to the pin up ahead on the par-3 16th. Schwartzel answered with a 5-meter birdie to catch Scott atop the leaderboard again. Then came the pivotal 17th, where Schwartzel took the lead, and he finished off in style.
South Africans now have won two of the last three majors, following Louis Oosthuizen winning at St. Andrews last summer. This one came on the 50th anniversary of Gary Player becoming the first international player to win the Masters.
"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 said on Twitter.
In so many respects, this looked more like 1986 when Jack Nicklaus charged on the back nine to win a sixth green jacket over a Hall of Fame cast of contenders. There were twice as many possibilities at this Masters, though, from Woods and former Masters champion Angel Cabrera, from Ogilvy and Donald, from K.J. Choi and Bo Van Pelt, who made two eagles on the back nine.