|Schwartzel, left, with KJ Choi after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to win the Masters tournament on Sunday [AFP]
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa has closed with four straight birdies to win the Masters over a pair of Australians in one of the most dramatic finishes ever at Augusta National in Georgia, USA.
Schwartzel's final putt from 20ft curled into the side of the cup for a 6-under 66, the best closing round at the Masters in 22 years. It gave the 26-year-old a two-shot victory over Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day.
"Just an exciting day," said Schwartzel, who finished at 13-under 274. "So many roars, and that atmosphere out there was just incredible. A phenomenal day."
Scott shot a 67 and Day finished with two straight birdies for a 68, leaving the Aussies in second place at 276. It was bitter disappointment for themselves and their country: the Masters is the only major an Australian has never won.
Tiger Woods was in a group at 278, failing to capitalise after making four birdies and an eagle to shoot a 31 on the front side. He missed short putts at both the 12th and 15th holes, limping to the finish with a 36 on the back nine.
"It could have been," he said. "I hit it good all day."
Rory McIlroy, who entered the day with a four-stroke lead, meanwhile, suffered a stunning collapse.
Still leading by one shot as he headed to the back nine, the Northern Ireland golfer 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 7 feet for bogey on the 11th, four-putted from about 12 feet on the next hole and then buried his head into his forearm as the loss began to settle in.
McIlroy shot 80, the highest final round by the 54-hole leader since Ken Venturi in 1956.
Schwartzel becomes the fourth straight first-time major champion, following Martin Kaymer of Germany (PGA Championship), fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen (British Open) and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (US Open).
His victory comes 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.
Eight players had at least a share of the lead at some point during the back nine Sunday. The steady hand came from Schwartzel, whose only bogey was on the fourth hole as this Masters was just getting started.
Schwartzel got up-and-down from behind the 15th green for birdie to briefly take a share of the lead before Scott made a two-footer ahead of him on the par-3 16th.
Schwartzel answered with a 15-foot birdie of his own on the 16th to catch Scott again. Then came the pivotal 17th, where Schwartzel made a 10-foot birdie to hold the lead by himself for the first time all day.
Schwartzel will now move to No. 11 in the world, making him the No 1 player in South Africa. He becomes the sixth South African to win a major.
"It's been such a short time to think about what can happen. It's a dream for me," Schwartzel said. "It's obviously the highlight of my golf career, by a long way. I always thought if there was one I would win, it would be this one."
In so many respects, this looked more like 1986 when Jack Nicklaus charged through the back nine to win his sixth green jacket over a top field. There were twice as many possibilities at this Masters, though, with Woods, former Masters champion Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy, Luke Donald, KJ Choi and Bo Van Pelt all in contention towards the end.
Schwartzel played well from the start, chipping in from some 75 feet across the green for birdie on the opening hole, then holing out from the fairway on No 3 for eagle.
Just like that, McIlroy's four-shot lead was gone.
The cheers were impossible for McIlroy to ignore. From the second green, where he was scrambling to make par, McIlroy could hear the noise ahead of him for Schwartzel's eagles. Moments later, another roar came from the seventh green, where Woods tapped in a close putt for another birdie.
The loudest reaction from the gallery was on the par-5 eighth, when Woods knocked in an eagle putt to reach 10 under and take a share of the lead. His momentum would not last long, however.
Woods missed a 3-foot par putt on the 12th, failed to birdie the par-5 13th with a 7-iron for his second shot. Then, after twirling his 7-iron with a shot so pure it settled 4ft away on the par-5 15th, he missed the 4ft eagle putt.
Woods closed with a 67, his best final round ever here. But his 36 on the back nine was not good enough to win.
"I got off to a nice start there and posted 31," he said. "And then on the back nine, could have capitalised some more."
Woods finished equal fourth at the Masters for the second straight year, joined by Ogilvy, who ran off five straight birdies on the back nine, and Luke Donald, who was in contention until hitting into a stream on the 12th for double bogey.
Scott, who switched to a long putter in February, took the lead for the first time with a short birdie on the 14th and had the look of a winner with his tee shot to tap-in range on the 16th, and a par save from the bunker on the 17th.
But he missed his 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
"I don't think I can ask for anything more," Scott said. "I had a putt at it at the last - not my best, but everything else was pretty good today."
Day closed strongly with consecutive birdies that allowed him to shoot 68 and join Scott at 12-under 276.