This was one you couldn’t top. Well, you might have, if Tiger Woods hadn’t clumped after the front nine. I was just running down what I liked most about 2011, the year, I mean, in sports — as you might have suspected.
I’d thought about the World Series. You’ve gotta admit that if they played it again the Cardinals couldn’t win it. Mainly, what I liked about it was Tony La Russa. He wins it, then a few hours later he tells you that’s it. Enough. He’s going home to mama.
But the Masters? I’ve been going there for 63 years and I’ve never seen a finish like that one. And the winner? A skinny, 26-year-old guy from South Africa, and he can’t even spell his name right.
Charl Schwartzel. There can’t be any such name!
Well, there is now. He came out of South Africa, from a town I can’t pronounce — or even spell. He’d played over here a few times, but he was just passing through — and the one time he came close to winning before, Ernie Els, one of his own South African friends, beat him in one of those World Championships.
Charl didn’t just win it, he birdied the last four holes, and it was one of the wildest finishes I’ve ever seen at Augusta.
Nearest to it was in 1959, when quiet, somber Art Wall birdied five of the last six holes and took it away from Arnold Palmer. You know something strange about that? Art is the only Masters champion who never defended his championship.
He had an infected knee the next year, so I put him in play. He did some walking coverage for my sports section, and this time Arnie did win. Oh, Art didn’t go away empty-handed. I paid him $250 for his work.
This year, Tiger made a run on the front nine, then fell on his face. Then the foreign forces took over — that is, after Rory McIlroy left his Masters among the cottages along the 10th fairway. Then it was a scramble to fill the vacancy.
Here they came, Adam Scott, then Jason Day, two Aussies; Luke Donald, who would be the PGA’s Player of the Year, but the champion was just filing his claim with his four birdies. Schwartzel was on his way to a Green Jacket.
Donald got hot at the end, but it was too late. Tiger had filed America’s claim, but that was four strokes too late and too far back. I’ve seen a lot of history made over there, but never a finish like that. So that’s my sports story of the year. Now, let’s see 2012 top that!