Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare Masters meltdown as stablemate Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to clinch a thrilling two-shot win at Augusta.
The haunted Holywood star, 21, collapsed in a hail of pull-hooks and disastrous putting, crashing to a closing 80 to finish ten shots behind the South African in a tie for 15th on four under par.
Fifteen years after Greg Norman blew a six stroke lead, collapsing to a 78 to finish five behind Nick Faldo, McIlroy’s eight over par final round was the worst score of the day by two shots.
Even close pal Graeme McDowell couldn’t bear to watching, telling his Twitter followers with five holes to go: “Thinking about switching my TV off. This just got ugly.”
Four clear of the field starting the day, McIlroy turned for home one ahead of Schwartzel, KJ Choi and Angel Cabrera on 11 under after a one-over par front nine featuring two bogeys and a solitary birdie
He was worryingly nervy on the greens, missing short par putts inside four feet at the first and fifth. But those misses were mild compared to what happened on the back nine.
His self-destruction began with a triple bogey at the 10th and he followed that with a three putt bogey from seven feet at the 11th and a four-putt double bogey at the 12th before hooking into Rae’s Creek en route to a par at the 13th.
But his sickening seven at the 10th was the real killer blow.
He snap-hooked his tee shot into the trees and ricocheted 100 yards left of the fairway, finishing between the Peek and Berckmans cabins.
But after punching back to the fairway, he pull-hooked his third way left of the green, clattered a tree with his fourth, chipped on and two putted for a triple that relegated him to tied seventh.
While he was now four over for the day, he was still just two shots of the lead.
And while he gave his fans hope with a stunning second to seven feet at the 11th, he three putted for bogey there and never recovered.
Bitterly disappointed, he four-putted the 12th from 25 feet, aggressively knocking his birdie chance three feet past the hole before taking another three stabs from there.
With nowhere to hide, he bowed his head after he had hooked his drive into Rae’s Creek at the 13th. And while he saved par there, he bogeyed the 15th with another three putt from the back fringe, limping home in seven over par 43.
The tournament finale was a classic Masters thriller with Schwartzel finishing with a birdie at the last for a two shot win over Aussie Jason Day and Adam Scott on 14 under par after a six under 66.
Geoff Ogilvy and a charging Tiger Woods hit 67s to set the clubhouse target at 10 under par before Luke Donald chipped in at the last for a 69 to join them.
Scott and Day beat that mark by two to get into the house at 12 under with rounds of 67 and 68 respectively.
But Australia will have to wait for its first Masters winner after Schwartzel grabbed the outright lead when he birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th to go one in front and then drained a 20 footer for another birdie at the last and his maiden major win.
After McIlroy’s mishaps, Ireland’s first green jacket will also have to wait.
There was no doubt that the young Ulsterman was the crowd favourite as he headed to the first tee with the hulking Cabrera, bidding to become the youngest Major winner since Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997.
But it quickly became clear that he was in for a long afternoon when he bogeyed the first off a perfect tee shot, pulling the first of a series of four footers wide of the mark after racing his slick birdie effort from the fringe past the hole.
His four-shot lead was down to two at that stage as Schwartzel chipped in for birdie at the first to get to nine under.
But by the time he walked to the third tee, his lead had evaporated completely.
Bunkered off the tee at the 575-yard second, he did well to escape from the sand at the first attempt as his ambitious second slammed into the face of the trap and barely clambered onto the fairway.
He bunkered his third from 240 yards but two huge roars went up as he surveyed his par putt.
The first came for Schwartzel as he hole out from the fairway for an eagle two from close to 120 yards to get to 11 under par.
The other was for Woods’ fourth birdie of the day at the seventh which left him just three shot off the lead.
McIlroy got up and down magnificently, holing a four footer for par to Cabrera’s birdie to settle his nerves but he now had Woods breathing down his neck.
Seven shots behind McIlroy starting the day, the four time Masters champion birdied the second from six feet and the third from three before following a bogey at the fourth with birdies at the sixth and seventh to roar right back into the mix at eight under.
It wasn’t long before he was tied for the lead with McIlroy and Schwartzel on 10 under as he blasted an eagle three from 10 feet at the eighth as the Ulsterman’s putter let him down from four feet at the fifth.
Woods biggest test of the front nine came at the ninth where he was bunkered left of the green.
But he splashed out to 20 feet, drained the putt to a huge roar and pointed his forefinger at the hole as if to say: “That’s another one.”
Out in five under par 31, he was right back in the mix for his 15th major title and posing huge questions for the Holywood idol.
But the youngster showed nerves of steel to regain the lead, canning a 15 footer uphill from the fringe at the seventh for his first birdie of the day.
He could have gone into the back nine with a two or three shot lead but he duffed his chip after two magnificent blows saw him run through the bac of the par the par-five eighth and walk off with no better than five. He then missed a 12 foot birdie chance at the ninth and turned for home in one over 37, one clear Schwartzel, Choi and Cabrera on 11 under par.
Little did he know that he was heading for a date with sickening destiny.