Charl happy under the radar in Masters buildup

He finished in a share of 30th in last year’s Shell Houston Open, and Charl Schwartzel went on to win the Masters – so he’s not unhappy with the golfing world’s attention focused on Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

“In a way, you feel you’re being overlooked and you can work under the radar,” said Schwartel. “All the other guys, the media apply a lot of pressure on them, and you can go about your business the way you normally would and catch them off guard.”

And his normal way of business – after its successful application in a four-birdie blitz to capture the Masters title as McIlroy imploded and Woods’ charge fizzled out on the homeward nine – is to take advantage of the quick greens at Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament Course.

“It’s always one of my favourite events,” said Schwartzel of the Shell Houston Open where he shared third in 2010. “Not because it’s the week before the Masters, and the way they set-up the golf course – it’s known to be very good practice for Augusta – but, you know, I just like the golf course as it is, and it’s just a bonus that they do set it up very similar.”

There is also a lot of attention being lavished on Ernie Els as the Big Easy looks set to miss his first Masters since 1994 as he languishes outside the world’s top 50 on the Official World Golf Rankings and has not been given an invitation to the event yet.

“I think that would be a loss to a major championship,” said Schwartzel. “It’s not just losing a player, but one of that stature. He’s such a world figure. It will be sad not to see him.”

But all the discussion makes sure Schwartzel keeps smiling below the radar ahead of his title defence at Augusta National next week.

“For me, I like to play a week before. That gets me going the second week into it when I play my best,” he said. “You can’t practice the confidence you get by playing tournament golf. You can stand on the range and prepare all you want, but I think you gain a lot more when you play tournament golf confidence-wise and also hitting shots under pressure.”

So, while he will be facing 14 other major champions in Houston – including countrymen Els and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen – as well as Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker who are ranked higher than his seventh at third and fifth on the world rankings, his eye will be on Georgia as much as it is on Texas.

“I was striking the ball well here last year, and I was very good on Sunday with my finish, and very confident going into Augusta,” he said. “I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing with the golf ball. I spent a bit of time during this week last year working on quick putts, fast putts, and I came and did that all week. These greens get really, really quick, and I was practicing the putts to prepare for that and felt that that helped me a lot.”

He sounds like a man who knows exactly what he’s doing.

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