Schwartzel breathing down Donald’s neck

He may not reach the summit this week, but the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio can be the start of a march to the top of the world for Charl Schwartzel.

The world number 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings has been in and around the world’s top 10 since his stunning victory in the Masters, and, while Luke Donald’s position at the summit of the list might seem a long way off, Schwartzel can use his form to make inroads into the lead the world number one holds.

It was in a WGC event that Schwartzel finally came to be regarded by the United States pundits as a player with the credentials to be a world beater: He came second to Ernie Els in a thrilling finish in last year’s WGC-CA Championship in Doral, Florida.

That performance was the springboard to the current state of his career, which peaked with that flourish at Augusta National in April when he finished with four consecutive birdies to win the first major of the 2011 season.

And, since then, although he has yet to pull off another victory, he has been consistency itself, with six top 25s, including a share of ninth place at the RBC Canadian Open. He ranks 31st on the PGA Tour in total driving statistics, 45th in greens in regulation and 24th in the all-around ratings.

And, for Schwartzel’s naturally long game, the course is a perfect fit: At 7,400 yards, Firestone’s South Course is the longest par 70 on the PGA Tour. Furthermore, its par-5 16th hole is the longest hole on the tour. Capable of stretching 667 yards, it measures four yards longer than the downhill 18th at Kapalua in Hawaii.

Schwartzel had a share of 24th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral this year, and he was 58th at last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitation which was won by Hunter Mahan.

He has better results to his credit in the event: He came 26th in 2006, and had a share of 18th when it was the WGC-American Express Championship.

He leads a group of South Africans into the event which consists of Els, Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini and Louis Oosthuizen.

Goosen is the man who has fared best in the event with his share of third last year.

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