After making birdies on the final four holes to win the 2011 Masters Tournament in just his second appearance at Augusta National Golf Club, it was thought that Charl Schwartzel, then age 26, would be a factor for years to come.
It didn’t work out that way.
It wasn’t until six years later – at last year’s Masters – that Schwartzel worked his way back into contention, finishing solo third.
In between his victory and last year’s spirited run, Schwartzel tied for 50th in his title defense, tied for 25th in 2013, missed the cut in 2014, tied for 38th in 2015 and missed the cut in 2016.
Schwartzel said the nature of Augusta National Golf Club had something to do with how long it took him to contend again.
“It’s a difficult golf course,” he said. “If you get on the wrong side of it, you’re just not going to perform around it. You need all parts of your game to be good.”
As much as golfers try to peak for the Masters through preparation and scheduling, it doesn’t always work out.
“The golf course is really a second shot golf course,” Schwartzel said. “Everybody talks about the greens being difficult to putt on. But it’s where you hit your second shot. It’s one thing knowing where you have to hit it, but doing it is a different thing. Some years you’re going to swing well and play well and other years you’re just not going to do it.”
It all came together for him last year, especially on the weekend when the brisk winds that sent scores soaring in the first two rounds disappeared.
After opening with 74-72, Schwartzel closed with a pair of 68s to finish three shots out of the Sergio Garcia-Justin Rose playoff.
“It was brilliant,” Schwartzel said of getting back in hunt. “That course has been good to me. Whenever you can get a chance to win a golf tournament, or get the feeling of it, that’s what we play for. I was fortunate last year, I played well again.
After making birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 13 in the final round, Schwartzel was closing the gap on Rose, who was leading at the time.
“I really thought towards the end there, especially standing on the 14th fairway, if I could make another few birdies, I would have had a really good chance,” he said.
Schwartzel hit a perfect tee shot on the par-4 No. 14. But he missed the green to the left and failed to save par.
“I should have birdied 14 after my tee shot,” he said. “That was a killer blow for me because I knew if I birdied 14 I’d be in with a very good chance of winning.”
Schwartzel, who started the day four shots behind 54-hole co-leaders Garcia and Rose and was three groups in front of them, wanted to get in the clubhouse with a strong 72-hole score.
“You post a score and you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
He did make birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 but it wasn’t enough because eventual winner Garcia and Rose weren’t faltering.
“I was thinking, obviously, bringing all those memories back (from 2011) and trying to make that happen again,” Schwartzel said. “But it's hard to come back from way behind. And I played well and Sergio and Justin, they were going very well coming in.”