A year after Charl Schwartzel took advantage of several late birdie opportunities in a frenzied finish on his way to a green jacket, the reigning Masters Tournament champion felt the opposite in his first competitive round back at Augusta National Golf Club.
“It could have easily been a 2- or 3-under par day,” he said. “Disappointing finish.”
Instead of stringing together four birdies on the final four holes as he did to win last year’s Masters, the 27-year-old South African bogeyed two of the final four, including five on the par-4 18th.
The round could have been worse on a day when soft course conditions were countered with difficult pin placements.
Schwartzel saved an errant approach at No. 11 that flew well right of the green by chipping to within two feet to save par.
His tee shot on No. 12 landed in the back bunker, but he chipped out and made a 15-foot par putt.
He also escaped the par-5 15th with a bogey after his second shot from the middle of the fairway flew well over the green and landed on the bank of the pond at No. 16. His chip sent the ball rolling past the hole, off the opposite edge of the green and into the water.
The round, which included four birdies, four bogeys and just half the fairways hit in regulation, wasn’t up to a champion’s standards.
“I actually think it should have been a little bit better,” he said. “I don’t think about the worst part of it. I felt comfortable. I felt good. Even par is a good spot to be in right now.”
Schwartzel’s 72 has him tied for 29th and within five strokes of the lead. He said he didn’t stray too far from the approach that saw him win a year ago.
“I’m pretty much sticking with what I did last year on most holes,” he said. “It’s what I did today, and I put myself in play most of the day. It’s still a long way to go.”
Schwartzel didn’t get off to a dominating start last year, finding himself four strokes back after the opening round and six strokes off the lead through Friday. He made up ground on the weekend with rounds of 68 and 66.
Though rain earlier in the week might have softened the course, Schwartzel said course officials counteracted any potential advantage with several difficult pin placements.
“There were a few flags that I saw on Sunday last year out there on Thursday now,” he said. “I mean, No. 1, No. 3, there was a few holes tucked very close to the back edges making it very difficult.”
Schwartzel was grouped with U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, who fired 2-over 74.Reigning PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley turned in the group’s top score with 1-under 71.
“I really like Charl,” Bradley said. “We played in a Grand Slam together. It’s a good time to kind of get to know each other. He’s a great guy, a funny guy. It was nice to be out there with him.”