If favorites are based solely on the facts presented week after week on the golf course, Charl Schwartzel has put together the strongest résumé for green jacket consideration in the world.
With the possible exception of American Brandt Snedeker – who was on a roll before taking a month off to rest his sore ribs – nobody is bringing a more sustained streak of good form to Augusta National Golf Club than the 2011 Masters Tournament champion.
From the South African Open in November through Riviera in February, Schwartzel posted top-five finishes in seven consecutive tournaments on three continents – including consecutive victories in Thailand and South Africa in December. He accumulated more world rankings points in that stretch than any other golfer.
“Charl is the type of guy if he finds his game you won’t see him out of the top five,” said friend and countryman Louis Oosthuizen, the runner-up last year at Augusta.
Schwartzel doesn’t object to his name being included with usual Masters favorites Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“Sure, yeah,” he said. “I’ve had good success and if I play well I can beat anyone. I won’t think about it until the Thursday of the tournament. You create expectation, and expectation is not a good thing. But I know if I play like I have been playing that I can beat anyone.”
A year ago, Schwartzel returned to Augusta with all the pressure and responsibilities of a reigning champion and left disappointed with a tie for 50th. This time he returns with no excess stress.
“The year after you’ve won there’s obviously a lot of expectations from a lot of people and you’ve got a lot of things to do,” he said. “There’s a little less on me now, and I can just go and play.”
Playing has become the easy part for the young South African. Schwartzel found his game after sitting out almost a month last summer following the U.S. Open to rest a nagging rib injury.
“The injury came, and I was pretty upset about it because I thought I was really close to breaking through and winning again,” Schwartzel said. “And, you know, I had to sit around for three weeks, three‑and‑a‑half weeks without being able to hit a ball. I had sort of a rushed recuperation for the British Open. Wasn’t quite 100 percent.”
Through five indifferent months, Schwartzel gradually regained his form.
“I fixed up my swing after the injury,” he said. “I’ve got no more pain when I swing the club. That got me back to the consistency that I had going back just about the Masters time.”
That consistency brings Schwartzel to another Masters with all the confidence of a former champion.
“I’ve had a good run of form, a couple good tournaments and got some good confidence,” he said. “You get a lot of confidence in playing well like I did and it’s nice that it’s happening just before the Masters. There’s obviously still a long way to go, but I always look forward to that week. It’s a good week and obviously with success a couple years ago, you feel like you can get your game to peak as I did.”
Schwartzel won’t be the only South African in the Masters spotlight, with Oosthuizen coming back after his playoff loss to Bubba Watson and British Open champion Ernie Els returning after missing his first Masters since 1993. Even 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman from Cape Town is re-emerging after injury setbacks.
“It’s nice to see all the guys play well,” Schwartzel said. “You’re always hoping that a South African does well. But it’s an individual game, and you’ve got to look after yourself.”