Kuala Lumpur - Charl Schwartzel, who in the last few months has played some of the best golf of his life, and Thomas Aiken - chasing back-to-back wins after his victory in the Avantha Masters in India on Sunday, present a strong South African challenge in the Maybank Malaysian Masters beginning on Thursday.
Later last year Schwartzel won the Thailand Golf Championship by 11 strokes and the following week captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek by 12 shots. Then, in the Joburg Open in February, he finished second behind Richard Sterne to extend his purple patch.
In last week’s Avantha Masters, co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours, Aiken fired a brilliant 62 in the third round so he too appears to be in good nick. One other South African, Jbe Kruger - who won last year’s Avantah Masters - is in Kuala Lumpur.
Meanwhile, England’s Luke Donald - one of the drawcards in the line-up for Malaysia - said on Tuesday that losing golf’s number one ranking had a silver lining, by allowing him to prepare for the April 11-14 Masters championship at Augusta free from the glare of the top-rank spotlight.
Donald said the pressure of defending the top spot can be a distraction when preparing for important tournaments. The Englishman is yet to win a Major. “Naturally the whole point in being the best is to be number one, best player on the planet, and that is where I want to be too,” said Donald, now ranked third in the world behind Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
“But having said that, I have to agree that there is a little less pressure in being the number three going into the Masters.”
Donald assumed the number one ranking in May 2011 and held it for nearly a year until he and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy traded the spot several times, with McIlroy taking over for good last August.
Donald said his form has been on an upswing, noting his tie for third at the Tampa Bay Championship on Sunday. “I am looking forward to the Masters and in recent weeks my game has come together well.”
Donald is making his debut in the Malaysian Open, which will be his fifth tournamentappearance this year. He is the highest-ranked player at the tournament, which will include the three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington.
On the PGA Tour in America, this week’s tournament is the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a strong South African contingent comprising Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Branden Grace, George Coetzee Tim Clark and Trevor Immelman. Phil Mickleson is in the line-up, but both McIlroy and Woods are taking this week off.
The Mercury, Sapa