Charl on major mission in Houston

Last year, Charl Schwartzel was riding a high on the US PGA Tour ahead of the Masters, and he will be looking to recapture a little of that feeling as he plays the Shell Houston Open in preparation for the first major of the year.

Schwartzel burst onto the PGA Tour scene last year after a few indifferent earlier attempts to make a mark there with a strong showing in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play, a second place behind Ernie Els in the WGC-CA Championship (now the WGC-Cadillac Championship), and a share of third in the Shell Houston Open.

That third place at the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course in Humble, Texas, came after a relatively poor tie for 52nd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, also behind Els.

He’ll clearly be hoping for a similar rebound after last week’s 47th-place showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational behind champion Martin Laird.

Last year, he went on to finish in a share of 30th at the Masters, and that set him up for three top-20 performances in the remaining majors – T16 in the US Open, T14 behind Louis Oosthuizen in the Open, and T18 in the PGA Championship.

He seems to be struggling to find his form in America since becoming a member of the PGA Tour, and his progress has not been in the direction he would have hoped it would be: After a steady start to his campaign in the WGC- Accenture Match Play, he shared 14th in the Honda Championship, 24th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and 47th last week.

But he’s not ranked 29th in the Official World Golf Rankings because he’s a poor player: He had a glittering 2010, winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit with two victories, three top 10s which included being runner-up twice, and a worst finish of 14th in his six tournaments in South Africa.

And he leads the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit for 2011 with his share of fourth in the Africa Open and his victory in the Joburg Open.

So when he tees off at 1.20pm Texas time on Thursday with Billy Mayfair and Steve Elkington, he will be conscious of getting ready for frying of an altogether bigger fish – at Augusta National next week.

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