Schwartzel eyes maiden SA Open title

Former Freddie Tait Cup winner Charl Schwartzel won the 2011 Masters, two titles each in Europe and Asia and six times here in South Africa and this week the world number 22 has targeted his maiden South African Open Championship title at Glendower Golf Club in the 103rd edition of the South African Golf Association’s most prestigious event.

But South Africa’s highest-ranked golfert refuses to put too much pressure on himself in the search of one of the few plaudits to escape him thus far in his stellar career.

The current world number 22 won the 2011 Masters and won two titles each in Europe and Asia, and six in South Africa, but his best result in the SA Open is a runners-up finish behind Tim Clark at Durban Country Club in 2005.

“I want to win the SA Open, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself, that’s unnecessary,” Schwartzel said on Tuesday. “If it doesn’t happen now then I’ll win it some other time.

“I know how to win but you can’t get ahead of yourself. Being considered one of the favourites is a confidence boost and I can feed off others’ confidence in me. I’ve prepared well and if I play well, then I know I can win.”

The 29-year-old said being back on home turf might just provide the extra missing something to convert a consistent year into a winning finish, much like he did in 2012.

“I’ve had a pretty consistent year, with top-20s pretty much every week. In a way it’s frustrating, but I know how close I am to stepping up and winning. There’s not much more I can do and I had a nice win in China last month.

“But I’ve been away from South Africa for so long that by the end of the year you’re really looking forward to playing on familiar soil.

“It picks up your game a bit, you see familiar faces and you have people rooting for you. I can see my Dad and fix the little faults that have crept into my game,” Schwartzel said.

Apart from being able to work hard on the practice range – which is not always possible during the hurly-burly of the tour – Schwartzel has also been able to familiarise himself with Glendower to ensure the course doesn’t mug him once the SA Open starts on Thursday.

“I didn’t know Glendower at all, so I started playing here two weeks ago for the first time in 15 years. It’s very similar to most Joburg courses, but probably the best of all of them. It provides real risk-and-reward golf, probably more so than the others. You can use a big variety of shots around here and you can’t just pull driver out on every hole,” Schwartzel said.

Darren Fichardt is another South African who believes he is able to claim the national open title for the first time.

Fichardt’s game is still in pretty pert shape after he dominated the co-sanctioned events in 2012/13, as evidenced by his 48th-place finish in the Race to Dubai and his continued lead atop the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.

“I had a good start to the season, but the middle wasn’t great because I had something to fix in my swing – I was starting too far right.

“But all my lines are good now and the last four weeks, on very tough courses, have been very good. I’m very excited about my ball-striking at the moment and my putting is always good,” Fichardt said.

The 38-year-old said he has no problem if he tees it up on Thursday as one of the favourites.

“It’s nice to be at an event where you’re one of the favourites. I have no problem with that, it doesn’t bother me. I know I’m playing well, but I’ll just take it one hole at a time because this game is very unpredictable,” the Africa Open champion said.

Meanwhile, Sanlam SA Amateur champion Thriston Lawrence’s disappointment at not playing with Henrik Stenson lasted all of 10 seconds until the 16-year-old from Nelspruit learned that he will be playing with 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel. “Oh wow, that’s even better. I thought playing with Henrik was the best thing, but Charl is the ultimate. He is my hero. That’s fantastic, just fantastic. I can’t wait, it’s going to be fantastic.”

Schwartzel was equally complimentary about his playing partner for the first two rounds.

“This kid has been really impressive this year. He just walked the SA Amateur and, at his age, that takes some BMT. I heard he played really well overseas, as well, so I will keep my eye on him. Might be worth getting his signature before we tee off, because he could be the next SA major champion. That signature could be worth quite a bit some day soon.”

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