Charl thrilled over fade shot
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
and Andrew Both
JASON Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama – the hot favourites to go all the way at August National this weekend.
But why not Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen or Branden Grace?
The trio will be joined in Georgia in the chase for the famed green jacket from tomorrow by former champion Trevor Immelman and four-times Major champion Ernie Els.
It’s not the biggest contingent of South Africans teeing it up tomorrow, but it’s certainly one of the more decorated and if we take recent form into account there’s every chance one or two of these men will be right up there on the leaderboard going into the weekend. In fact, it would be surprising if the South African flag isn’t seen on the “front page” of that leaderboard on Sunday.
Schwartzel knows his way around the fairways and greens at Augusta, having triumphed there in 2011. He is probably South Africa’s best bet at winning this year.
Schwartzel’s form has been hugely impressive since November, winning three times, twice on the European Tour and once on the PGA Tour, and many feel he’s playing the best golf of his life. He said after triumphing at the Valspar Championship in the middle of last month he was comfortable with what Augusta would present this weekend.
“It really is a great feeling (winning in the US). Winning back in 2011 (at the Masters), the biggest tournament in our sport, your expectations go up and I figured that I would win a few times the way I played there and it just never came,” Schwartzel said.
“And for me, the best thing of all (going into this week) is I’ve actually got my fade back. I grew up hitting a fade, I can fade the ball again and those, on that golf course, hitting your second shots into those greens, it’s really important to be able to do that,” he added.
Oosthuizen, too, has shown promising form recently, having won the Perth International a few weeks ago and finishing runner-up – to Day – at the World Matchplay in Texas.
As for Els, his confidence is flooding back after a return to health and a reunion with his old coach. Yesterday he sounded more enthusiastic than in years.
The 46-year-old has recovered from a hip injury and he says that the slick condition of the par-72 Augusta National layout this week looks like being right up his alley, after last year being softer than a fresh pudding.
“The course is very fast and very firm this year which kind of suits me because I can get the ball out there a bit,” Els told Reuters under the stately oak tree adjacent to the first tee.
“You have to play smart here and there. I'm not saying I'm smart but you can't just go blindly at the flags like we did last year. You have to play away from flags.”
Els reunited on Monday with his former swing coach David Leadbetter. “We did some chipping for a couple of hours and then I hit some shots,” said Els. “It was great to have him around. We’ve worked for many years and I feel like he knows me as good as my father knows me.”
While Greg Norman is perhaps best known for his many Masters heartbreaks, Els also has a great record at Augusta National without ever winning.
He finished sixth or better for five years in a row from 2000-2004, a streak bookended by runner-up finishes.
And if Els does not win this year, which countryman does he most fancy – Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel or Louis Oosthuizen?
Grace showed his ability in the majors with two top-four finishes last year while Schwartzel and Oosthuizen have previously flourished at Augusta – Schwartzel winning in 2011 and Oosthuizen losing a playoff the following year.
“I think they all have great chances,” said Els. “I just played with Branden. He is driving it unbelievable.
“He’s got a lot of confidence. This is not the most perfect venue for him. He hits it a little bit flat but he’s long enough.
“But the other guys are right there. Louis loves it, Charl loves it. They’re all playing well.” – Reuters