Schwartzel, Oosthuizen head young SA presence on Florida swing

SA rookies Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen make their first appearance in the same tournament in a regular PGA Tour event this week since becoming members of that Tour.

They line up in a superbly strong field in the Honda Classic at the PGA National Golf Club Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

And, not only do they get to play against three of three of the world’s top four players – only new number one Martin Kaymer is missing, putting his position under attack from Lee Westwood and Luke Donald – but they also get to be part of the scene as the Florida swing gets underway.

This is when the PGA Tour gets serious after what has felt like a low-key start to the year was climaxed by the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Now it’s the run in to the first major of the year, as players hone their games ahead of the Masters which starts on April 7 – looking to get into the event, or ensuring they’re ready for it if they have already gained entry.

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel are safely in to the Masters, so the Florida swing is all about consolidating their positions on the Official World Golf Rankings – Oosthuizen is at 21 and Schwartzel at 25 this week – and becoming seasoned campaigners in the new arena presented by the United States.

They will have the presence of fellow-South Africans Ernie Els, Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman to give them some inspiration.

Els won the event in 2008, Sabbatini is fresh off a share of fifth in last week’s Maykoba Golf Classic in Mexico, and 2008 Masters champion Immelman is attempting to get his game back on track after a lengthy injury hiatus.

And, after the Honda Classic, over the next three weeks, the PGA Tour heads to Miami for the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at TPC Blue Monster, then the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

All of those events have produced recent South African winners. The last four events at TPC Blue Monster were won by Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy, Phil Mickelson and Els. At Bay Hill, Woods has won twice and Els and Vijay Singh once each in the last four years. And at Innisbrook, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Sean O’Hair, Mark Calcavecchia and KJ Choi have lifted the last five trophies.

Now, the next generation of Sunshine Tour graduates is laying its foundations for careers that might rival those of Els and Goosen.

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