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Nicklaus gave Schwartzel tips on how to play Augusta

Nicklaus gave Schwartzel tips on how to play Augusta

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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On the 25th anniversary of his famous Masters Tournament victory, Jack Nicklaus even played a role in Charl Schwartzel's spellbinding two-shot victory Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.

A lengthy conversation that Schwartzel had with Nicklaus 13 months ago helped the 26-year-old South African navigate Augusta National Golf Club and outlast Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day in the 75th Masters.

Schwartzel, who birdied the final four holes Sunday, tipped his hat to Nicklaus after his final-round 6-under-par 66 brought him home at 14-under 274.

Last March, Schwartzel was playing in the Els for Autism Pro-Am, hosted by fellow countryman Ernie Els. So was Nicklaus. A meeting was set up for the two by South African businessman Johann Rupert, a longtime supporter of South African golf, who joined them for lunch.

After Schwartzel and Nicklaus talked about hunting, Rupert asked Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, if he could give Schwartzel some tips on how to play Augusta National.

Schwartzel thought "it was going to be just a vaguely quick little thing, and he actually took the time to take me through all 18 holes the way he used to think around Augusta and the way he used to play it, which flags he used to attack."

At the time, the tips weren't sinking in because Schwartzel, who was going to make his Masters debut three weeks later, had never played Augusta National.

"He's taking me through how to play Augusta and I've only seen it on TV," Schwartzel said. "And now I'm in the presence of Mr. Nicklaus, and in such awe. I'm just staring at it and taking in what I can."

During the tutorial, Rupert was taking notes, which he later e-mailed to Schwartzel.

"So afterwards we had it all," said Schwartzel, who missed the cut three weeks later in the Masters, but became the surprise winner Sunday thanks in part to Nicklaus' tips.

While Schwartzel was staying close to the Masters lead over the weekend before his quick strike Sunday, Els was playing a bit part, going off in the first group on Saturday with a noncompeting marker and then off in the second group of the day on Sunday.

Els shot 75-70-76-72 to finish in a tie for 47th and beat one player who made the cut. Now 41, Els has a strong Masters record: two-runner-up finishes during a stretch from 2000-2004 when he finished no worse than sixth. He has won two U.S. Opens and a British Open.

Schwartzel said he never thought he'd win the Masters before Els.

"Ernie, has had some fantastic Masters performances; some that's been stolen out of his hands you could say," he said. "Sometimes that's the way it goes. It's not like he can't win any majors. He's more than capable of winning them. Sometimes things just don't go your way."

Things went Schwartzel's way Sunday, especially early on when he made an 80-foot bump-and-run chip-in for birdie on No. 1 and holed out a 114-yard shot for eagle on No. 3.

It also helped that fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen had won the British Open last July in St. Andrews.

"That was a huge inspiration," he said of Oosthuizen, who missed the cut this year at the Masters. "To see Louis win the Open Championship the way he did, you know, we grew up together from a young age. We played every single team event, tournament against each other, and we represented South Africa for so long.

"You know, we always traveled together, so we basically are the best of mates. We play almost every single practice round together, as well. So we know where our level of golf is, and just to see him do it made it, in my mind, realize that it is possible, and just sort of maybe take it over the barrier of thinking that a major is too big for someone to win."

Schwartzel's victory made him the youngest Masters champ since Tiger Woods won his third green jacket at age 25 in 2001, but he wasn't the 20-something who was expected to do it.

That was 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, who carried a four-shot lead into the final round but imploded with an 80 and tied for 15th.

"I mean, it's difficult. What do you say?" Schwartzel said about McIlroy. "He's such a good player. He's going to win a major sometime. Obviously things didn't go his way. The way he played the first three rounds, you have to think that a win is not that far away.

"Golf is a really funny game. One moment you're on top of it and the next it bites you. He's such a phenomenal player. He'll win one."

"I'll have plenty more chances," McIlroy said. "I know that. It's very disappointing what happened. Hopefully it'll build a little bit of character in me, as well. I'm very disappointed at the minute, and I'm sure I will be for the next few days, but I'll get over it. I've got to take the positives, and the positives were I led this golf tournament for 63 holes. "

In this Story
Jack Nicklaus
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Adam Scott
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Ernie Els
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Tiger Woods
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Charl Schwartzel
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Rory McIlroy
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
Jason Day
(Stats | Bio | Photos)
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