CAPE TOWN – Charl Schwartzel hasn’t been doing much fist pumping for a while now so it was good to see him unleash a pretty animated one after sinking a 12-footer on the home green in the final round of the Players Championship on Sunday.
That birdie three on the daunting par-4 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass gave him a closing 67 in golf’s unofficial “fifth major”, a tie for second and a cheque for $821 333 which - do the maths - is pretty close to R10million. Not bad for a week’s work when you finish runner-up.
The amount of prize money on the PGA Tour is crazy and Webb Simpson picked up $1.97m for the victory, which - again do the maths - that’s in the region of an obscene R24m.
Schwartzel, though, wasn’t fist pumping at the thought of all that cash he now has to buy petrol for his helicopter; he was celebrating his return to form. Money isn’t an issue for the world’s top golfers.
No, it was because the tie for second came hot on the heels of a share for ninth and a third place in his previous two starts, in the Wells Fargo Championship and Zurich Classic. Suddenly he’s making birdies again, and a whole bunch of them. And for that he was quick to thank his buddy Louis Oosthuizen, who missed the cut at the Players, but pointed out to Schwartzel a few weeks ago that he was playing too fast and should instead slow down and “think rhythm”.
Now the man from Maccauvlei, who won the 2011 US Masters with a sweet tempo to his swing, has found that tempo again and it’s bringing results.
“Speeding up has always been my fault from the time I started playing the game,” Schwartzel says, “So if I can keep the right tempo going, I’m going to keep hitting good shots.”
So while it hasn’t been a great year in golf for South Africa, Schwartzel, with a little help from Oosthuizen, has brought some light ahead of the US Open next month and - as Ernie Els would say - “The British” in July.
If you watched the telecast from the United States, you’d agree that if it hadn’t been for Brooks Koepka popping his long approach from the fairway into the cup for an albatross two at the par-5 16th, then Schwartzel’s birdie at 18 in round three would have been the shot of the tournament.
Schwartzel drove way right into the forest there, leaving 168 yards for his second shot to the hole. Trouble is, he had about 168 trees blocking his path. But instead of chipping out sideways he elected to go for broke and took aim at the flag somewhere behind all that foliage.
Johnny Miller in the commentators’ box suggested that the fans out there on the course better duck for cover - hide under a bush, or whatever - as the ball could go anywhere. How Schwartzel managed to miss all those trees by the length of a golf peg we’ll never know, but his ball landed on the green, ran up towards the flagstick, very nearly dropped into the cup, and finished five feet away.
He was then able to stroke in the putt for a remarkable birdie, and one of three he made at 18 during the week.
So, Schwartzel is back. And, you may have noticed, so is that other guy who hasn’t been fist pumping for a while. Yes, Tiger Woods is around again - stalking - hitting shots like his did in his pomp. Watch out world.