Putting the focus for Charl as Masters draws nearer

With the PGA Tour’s ‘Florida Swing’ about to get underway, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel’s thoughts are turning to Georgia and sweet-smelling magnolias.

Or at least to the smell of freshly-mown and frighteningly slick greens.

His brilliant four consecutive birdies in the final round last year of the first major of the season came because he – more than anyone else – had mastered the treacherous pace of putting, and that mastery enabled him to shake off the Australian attentions of Jason Day and Adam Scott well after Rory McIlroy had collapsed in a quivering heap.

And as he starts playing in the US again after last week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, he will no doubt turn to what served him so well last year.

“If you know the greens well, you can actually use them to your benefit more than what it should be a disadvantage or that you should be scared of them,” said Schwartzel in a media teleconference ahead of his title defence. “But you really need to know them like the back of your hand.

“I was fortunate. I asked a few guys, some of the best putters in the world, I asked them what they did on the very fast greens, and they gave me a bit of advice. It worked out for me.

“I practiced for about six, seven weeks before I got there to putt on those fast greens. I think that’s what made me feel so comfortable. I wasn’t scared of the greens at all.

“Every week that I played, I went and found the fastest spot I could find on the putting green. Obviously downhill putts. The biggest thing you actually learn is to make a small stroke. You play week in and week out on fast greens, but not nearly as fast as you get at Augusta.

“The biggest adjustment is to learn to make a little stroke and be consistent with it. I think that’s what helped me. I felt very comfortable making a little, small stroke. Like I said, it worked out for me. I felt really comfortable even when I had fast putts,” he added.

And so to this week’s Honda Classic at PGA National Champion Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Schwarztel well be concentrating on putting, even though he has the wherewithal to win: He tied for 14th in his debut in the event last year, and, dating back to the Dunhill Links on the European Tour five months ago, he has nine top 20s in 10 starts.

But he nailed his colours to the mast during the Joburg Open in January: “It would be fantastic to retain my Masters title,” he said. “Any major victory would be very good for me, but to defend a major title would be incredible.”

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