He’s played the Open Championship eight times, and made the cut on only three occasions, but Charl Schwarztel is the kind of player who is likely to have Muirfield figured out when he gets to Thursday’s first tee.
After a start to the year in which he looked as if he was going to reproduce his irresistible form in which he closed out 2012, he’s had a bit of a frustrating time of it – something which not even his 14th place finish in the US Open will have been able to make better.
That’s because he had a legitimate shot at winning the US Open going into the final round, and a poor start on a really tough course put him on the back foot from the start, and he was never really able to recover from that.
But his 2010 and 2011 performances in the Open will give him some heart going into Muirfield: He came 14th behind his good friend Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 at St Andrews, and 16th behind Darren Clarke in 2011 after he had to get himself down to earth after his Masters victory.
Add that to the kind of consistency that is the envy of his peers – he has four top-10s in 11 starts on the US PGA Tour this year, including two third-place finishes – and it’s clear that he’s a threat in any circumstances.
At Muirfield – which is getting extraordinary raps from the players and the media – the circumstances are going to be testing in ways that ‘ordinary’ golf tournaments aren’t. With the weather set largely fair for the week ahead, the course is going to be very firm and it will bring out levels of creativity from the players as they jostle for victory.
And Schwartzel has showed on many occasions that he can be creative with the best of them. Recall his play on the 18th in final round of the Joburg Open, where he made birdie to secure second place behind the runaway winner, Richard Sterne. His approach was way right behind trees and near hospitality marquees, but he lofted a beauty onto the green, made his putt and barely raised a sweat.
With breezes so much part of links golf, lofting the ball like that won’t be called for frequently at Muirfield, and, with greens that undulate with the local terrain, putting the ball close to the pin becomes more of a challenge.
But when Schwartzel hits his straps, he’s as cerebral a golfer as there is inside the top 20 in the world at the moment – and that is what it might take to win at Muirfield.