Charl Schwartzel is so determined to get his hands on the trophy in this week’s e1-million South African Open that – as he puts it – “I’ve prepared for it almost like a Major”.
The tournament, co-sanctioned with the European Tour, starts on Thursday at the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate and the man with the golden swing – who won last year’s Masters – has already had several practice rounds on the demanding Jack Nicklaus- designed course just east of Johannesburg.
“The course is in great shape and a really good test – and by that I mean there’s a lot of water that comes in to play, there’s plenty of slope on the greens so you can’t be on the wrong side of the cup, and there’s a bunch of risk and reward holes,” he said yesterday.
“It’s a thinking man’s course and you need to be spot-on with your shot execution.”
The 28-year-old has won seven times on the European Tour but never the SA Open so it is very much a tournament on his hit list.
“When you look at the players who have won the Championship in the past, it would be an honour and a privilege to see my name alongside theirs on the trophy.
“South Africans have obviously got a great record in the event, so hopefully this year it can be my turn to give the home crowds something to cheer about. That’s why I’ve prepared quite a bit harder than usual for this one.”
Schwartzel revealed that he is pretty much over the torso injury that dogged him for months this year and kept him from performing at his best. “But the injury hasn’t been the only problem,” he insisted. “I just haven’t managed to string four rounds together. Too often I’ve had three good rounds, and then spoilt it with a not-so-good one. So hopefully this week it’ll be four good ones.”
The man who learnt his golf at Maccuavlei but is now attached to Blair Atholl will be aiming to continue the home nation’s dominance of the SA Open.
Compatriots Tim Clark (2002 and 2005), Trevor Immelman (2003-2004), Retief Goosen (2006), Ernie Els (1998, 2007 and December 2010), James Kingston (2008) Richard Sterne (2009) and defending champion Hennie Otto have all won this country’s national Open in recent seasons. In fact the only exception in the last 11 years was Scotland’s Richie Ramsay who prevailed at Pearl Valley in January 2010 (when the event was held twice in one year).
Joining Schwartzel at Serengeti is fellow Major winner Martin Kaymer, who heads to Ekurhuleni on the back of a top ten finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions. The German has won a European Tour title in every season since 2008, but he is yet to enter the winners’ enclosure so far this season and, with just next week’s DP World Tour Championship remaining, the German will be keen to keep that run going.
Otto, meanwhile, will be bidding to follow in the footsteps of his fellow South African Immelman, who successfully defended the SA Open title in 2004.
Twelve months ago, Otto held off a charging Bernd Wiesberger of Austria on the final day – also at Serengeti – to secure his second European Tour title. “My putting during the tournament last year was tremendous, which is important on this course because the greens are so tricky,” he said.
Other notables in this week’s line-up are Branden Grace, chasing his fifth European Tour title in what has been a fabulous 2012 for him, Kingston, Sterne and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
The SA Open is not the only European Tour event this week as the Hong Kong Open is also taking place and there world No1 Rory McIlroy, fresh from being crowned The Race to Dubai champion, will seek to enhance an already superb record at the tournament. He won the $2-million tournament last year, finished runner-up in 2008 and 2009, and tied sixth in 2010.