Augusta - South African Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes on Sunday to win the 75th Masters by two strokes over Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day in a dramatic back-nine showdown.
Video: Schwartzel wins the 2011 Masters
Gallery: Schwartzel gets his Green Jacket
Schwartzel's third birdie in a row was a tension-packed eight-foot putt at the 17th hole that left him needing only to par the 18th to win his first major title at age 26.
Instead, he dropped a 15-footer for birdie to finish off a six-under par 66, the day's low round, and conclude 72 holes on 14-under par 274, denying Scott and Day their dream of becoming the first Australian to capture a Masters title.
"I don't think I can ask for anything more," Scott said. "It was great to make a run out there. I just want to get in the mix next time."
"I couldn't do any more than I did out there," Day said after a round of 68. "Adam and I gave our best. Charl just had a little more out there. To be in the hunt to be the first Aussie to win the masters was special."
Schwartzel, who made it to Augusta only off his 2010 year-end top 50 world ranking, won 50 years to the day after countryman Gary Player became the first Masters winner from outside America.
It was only the second time in 21 years that the Masters winner did not come from the final pairing, Schwartzel in the penultimate group after entering the last round four strokes behind Rory McIlroy, whose last-day 80 doomed his bid.
"Just hit a poor tee shot on 10 and just unraveled from there. I just lost it and couldn't get it back. I'm very disappointed but I will get over it. I have to take away the positives. I led this golf tournament for 63 holes.
"Maybe it will build some character."
Schwartzel captured a $1.44 million top prize and the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy to pace a tension-packed day of sizzling back-nine drama among two fistfuls of golf's finest players.
Scott birdied the par-4 14th to seize a one-stroke lead, overcame a poor chip at the par-5 15th to stay on top, then smashed his tee shot at the par-3 16th three feet from the cup to set up a birdie that gave him a two-shot edge.
Schwartzel answered the challenge with birdies at the par-5 15th and par-3 16th to match Scott atop the leaderboard on 12-under.
Back-to-back Amen Corner birdies by Day at the par-3 12th and par-3 13th put him at 10-under and he birdied the 17th with an amazing uphill putt to pull within one of the lead.
Scott, using his long putter, answered the challenge by draining a 12-foot par putt behind Day to stay in a share of the lead but Schwartzel's fiery finish was too much to overcome.
Tiger Woods closed with a 67 to share fourth with England's Luke Donald and Aussie Geoff Ogilvy on 278, one shot ahead of Argentina's Angel Cabrera and two better than South Korean K.J. Choi and American Bo Van Pelt, all of whom were also in the back-nine title fight.
Scott and Day were trying to become the first Australian to win the Masters, the only major that golfers from Down Under have never claimed. Day could have become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win in his Masters debut.
Woods lipped out a four-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th that would have given him the lead alone, settling instead for a birdie that put him into a pack atop the leaderboard at 10-under par as an epic back-nine battle unfolded.
"It was, I imagine, one of the best Masters to watch," Donald said.
Displaying a long-absent putting skill that helped made him a 14-time major champion, Woods added to the tension on the leaders as pressure mounted on a hot day over Augusta National's undulating greens and unrelenting fairways.
"I was an interested spectator of the Tiger show on the front nine," Ogilvy said. "It was quite nice to listen to the roars of what he was doing on the front nine."
Woods, who has not won in 22 events since his infamous sex scandal erupted in November of 2009, finished with three pars for a 67 to take the clubhouse lead on 10-under 278.
"I should have been three or four more under par on the back nine," Woods said. "I got of to a nice start. On the back nine, I could have capitalized more. I hit it good all day. I'm happy about that."
Ogilvy birdied five holes in a row starting at the 12th to join the group at 10-under, then parred in to join Woods on 278.
"I thought I had a chance," Ogilvy said. "I didn't expect to birdie five in a row but I did and it was nice to finish with my best nine holes."
Donald took a double bogey at 12, birdied the 15th and 16th, took a bogey at 17 then hit the flagstick on his approach and rolled off the 18th green only to chip in for a birdie that put him in the pack at 278.
"It was a roller-coaster," Donald said. "I dug in deep and came up with some birdies down the stretch but came up short. I gave it my best shot."
274 - Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 69-71-68-66
276 - Jason Day (AUS) 72-64-72-68, Adam Scott (AUS) 72-70-67-67
278 - Tiger Woods (USA) 71-66-74-67, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS) 69-69-73-67, Luke Donald (ENG) 72-68-69-69
279 - Angel Cabrera (ARG) 71-70-67-71
280 - Bo Van Pelt (USA) 73-69-68-70, K.J. Choi (KOR) 67-70-71-72
282 - Ryan Palmer (USA) 71-72-69-70
283 - Justin Rose (ENG) 73-71-71-68, Lee Westwood (ENG) 72-67-74-70, Steve Stricker (USA) 72-70-71-70, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 74-70-69-70
284 - Trevor Immelman (RSA) 69-73-73-69, Brandt Snedeker (RSA) 69-71-74-70, Fred Couples (USA) 71-68-72-73, Ross Fisher (ENG) 69-71-71-73, Rory Mclroy (NIR) 65-69-70-80
285 - Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 71-71-73-70, Ricky Barnes (USA) 68-71-75-71, Martin Laird (SCO) 74-69-69-73
286 - Jim Furyk (USA) 72-68-74-72, Gary Woodland (USA) 69-73-74-70, David Toms (USA) 72-69-73-72
287 - Robert Karlsson (SWE) 72-70-74-71, Charley Hoffman (USA) 74-69-72-72, Ian Poulter (ENG) 74-69-71-73, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 65-73-75-74, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 71-73-70-73, Phil Mickelson (USA) 70-72-71-74, Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 72-73-68-74, Matt Kuchar (USA) 68-75-69-75
288 - Alexander Cejka (GER) 72-71-75-70, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 69-71-75-73, Ryan Moore (USA) 70-73-72-73
289 - Paul Casey (ENG) 70-72-76-71, Rickie Fowler (RSA) 70-69-76-74, Dustin Johnson (USA) 74-68-73-74, Bubba Watson (USA) 73-71-67-78
290 - Bill Haas (USA) 74-70-74-72, Steve Marino (USA) 74-71-72-73
291 - Kim Kyung-Tae (KOR) 70-75-78-68, Jeff Overton (USA) 73-72-72-74
292 - Nick Watney (USA) 72-72-75-73
293 - Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 75-70-74-74, Ernie Els (RSA) 75-70-76-72
294 - Camilo Villegas (COL) 70-75-73-76
Charl Schwartzel celebrates his Masters victory (AP)