Thoughts in the aftermath of Schwartzel’s Masters win

Final thoughts on the 2011 Masters:

x- Though this might be his first major championship, Charl Schwartzel certainly didn’t sneak up on anyone. We saw it coming last year when he dueled countryman Ernie Els in the final round of the then-CA Championship. We saw it coming when he was one of only a dozen men to make the cut in all four majors in 2010 – and finish in the top 20 in three of them. No, Schwartzel is no surprise winner. It will be a surprise if this is his only major title.

x- Which was a better finish? Nicklaus eagle-birdie-birdie-par in 1986 or Schwartzel’s four-birdie juggernaut on 15-18 Sunday? Both equate to 4-under over the final four holes, but, pulling back a bit, Nicklaus’ finish was part of an unfathomable 30 on the back nine. So, give the slight edge to Jack.

x- Is Tiger Woods back? He fired a final-round 67 and, briefly, was tied for the lead Sunday. It appears that only the flat stick is standing between him and a victory. But we can’t declare Woods all the way back until he’s hoisting a trophy.

x- You had to feel for Rory McIlroy. Leading the tournament after 63 holes, one wayward drive on No. 10 sent his day – and his tournament – spiraling out of control. Don’t feel too bad for Rory, though. He’s only 21. He probably has another 20 or 25 chances to win at Augusta. Here’s betting he does it at least once.

x- Golf historians tout the 1975 Masters as the most dramatic ever. Hard to believe it could have been more dramatic than what we saw Sunday, at least in terms of how many people had a shot to win.

x- The top 16 players (and ties) earn automatic return tickets to the 2012 Masters. Those would be (besides Schwartzel): Adam Scott, Jason Day, Woods, Luke Donald, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera, Bo Van Pelt, K.J. Choi, Ryan Palmer, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Edoardo Molinari, Justin Rose, Ross Fisher, Brandt Snedeker, McIlroy, Trevor Immelman and Fred Couples. Woods, Immelman and Couples, of course, already had exemptions because of being past Masters champions.

x- Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama was the low amateur at Augusta – and the only one to make the cut. Though he stumbled to a 74 on Sunday after Saturday’s brilliant 68, Matsuyama probably hasn’t made his last trip to Augusta.

x- Of the top 20 players and ties – a total of 23 golfers – only seven were American.

x- There has been talk about finding ways to thin the Masters field. This year’s tournament had 99 players and was one of the biggest ever. Thinning it shouldn’t be a matter of brain surgery. Not sure what the significance of the top 16 finishers coming back is, but that could easily be trimmed to the top 10. Top eight players and ties from previous U.S. Open? Make it top five. U.S. Amateur champ and runner-up? Sorry, runner-up. Just food for thought.

x- South Korea’s Kyung-tae Kim, the reigning Japan Tour Order of Merit winner, had a nice finish in his first Masters. After beginning the final round in last, he shot a 4-under 68 to finish T44. Forty-nine golfers made the cut.

x- Of all the “young guns” being touted at The Masters, perhaps Day was overlooked. He won’t be overlooked anymore. The 23-year-old had a 64 in the second round and finished with a 68 to tie Scott for second. Meanwhile, McIlroy, Alvaro Quiros, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler stumbled in the later rounds.

x- Phil Mickelson was never really in the hunt in the tournament that so many thought he would win. He needed a miracle round Sunday and needed many players ahead of him to stumble in order to successfully defend his title. But Mickelson shot a 2-over 74 and could only slip the green jacket over Schwartzel’s slender shoulders at the end.

x- Prediction of the winner of the 2012 Masters: Tiger Woods. Going out on a limb there, eh? Rest assured that Woods isn’t finished winning majors, regardless of what his last year has been like.

— Chuck Curti

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