Charl Schwartzel can’t remember when last he slept in his own bed for such an extended period, and the comfort he takes from that makes him a dangerous customer ahead of the €1.3-million Joburg Open which starts on Thursday.
The 2011 Masters champion last played in the European Tour’s Volvo Golf Champions in Durban in early January, and then has taken time off to practice and prepare for the year ahead.
“I’ve had some nice time off and I’ve had some nice practice over the last week,” said Schwartzel, “and it’s always fantastic for me to start off with this tournament on a golf course that I like.”
The event, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour, is played over the West and East courses of Royal Johannesburg and Kensington. After a round on each of them, the 210-man field is cut to the top 65 players and those tied on that score, and the final two rounds are played on the East Course.
Schwartzel has won the tournament twice – in 2010 and 2011 – and he is in a race with the other two-time champion, Richard Sterne, to be the first to take the title three times. Sterne is defending champion, having won in 2008 and last year.
“Both of us have played lots of golf around here,” said Schwartzel, “so we’re pretty comfortable with it. We’re familiar with the way the ball travels through the air at altitude, we’re familiar with the way the ball behaves on kikuyu, and I think that’s one reason we’ve had a bit more success in these big tournaments at home.”
Being at home and getting the mental break is important to Schwartzel. “After some time off I always feel fresh, because I drain more mentally than I do physically,” he said. “It’s nice to have had time off and I feel up for the challenge, and in our game that’s 85 percent of the battle won. Time will tell what’s going to happen, but at least I feel good.”
Last year, his closing 66 in the Joburg Open was not enough to stop Sterne capping a brilliant week with a 64 of his own on his way to a seven-stroke stroll to victory. And Schwartzel is savvy enough to know that doesn’t automatically mean there will be a repeat performance in 2014.
“There are a few guys out here that can play it well. Alvaro Quiros is here and he is one of the longest hitters in the game, so if he hits it straight then he’ll have a good chance this week,” he said. “George (Coetzee) did well here last year and he played well in Qatar and in Abu Dhabi, so did Thomas Aiken. I saw Emiliana Grillo made a long eagle putt on Sunday in Dubai, so he is obviously in top shape and has lots of confidence.
“There are a few guys here this week that have been around on the leaderboard in this tournament and that look like they’ve gotten off to a good start this year, so I don’t think it’s a two-horse race,” he added.
Schwarztel’s last tournament in South Africa was his victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, and if he strikes anything like that form, he can make it a one-horse race.