The Masters: The South African challenge

dThe first major of the year is always keenly anticipated by South Africans for a number of reasons: Gary Player was the first player from outside the US to win it, and, although there have only been two more players from these shores to don the green jacket, there is always a sense that one of them can come good in a tournament which is perhaps more visually appealing than any other.

Here’s a look at the five South Africans in the field this year:

Ernie Els: His best performance this year in the United States came with a share of 13th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 22. But there have been flickers of form, and he loves playing at Augusta National. Experience at the course is precious, and when the conditions make it as tough for the players who are in hot form as for those who are not quite there, then Els’ can mix it with the best of them – as his 2012 victory in the Open Championship showed.

Branden Grace: He’s not put together the kind of showing in the US that has brought him two European Tour titles this season so far, but he showed a grim determination in the Valero Texas Open at the end of last month. And getting to Augusta, with everything around him screaming ‘major’, he could find the kind of form which makes him such a threat on courses which place a premium on accuracy.

Trevor Immelman: The 2008 Masters champion has not showed anything like the kind of form which could make him a contender. If he is inspired by being back at Augusta, then he can shoot a couple of rounds which might make the appearance of his name on the leaderboard something of a surprise.

Louis Oosthuizen: A pair of recent top-10s in the US – at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational – suggests that he’s close to the kind of form which saw him come so close in 2012 when Bubba Watson won his first title. If his back holds up, he makes playing Augusta look easy – in fact, he makes golf look easy and poetic.

Charl Schwartzel: His swing struggles have been well-documented, and it’s been a frustrating opening quarter of the year for the 2011 Masters champion. His best finish this year in the US was a share of 41st in the Northern Trust Open, but his share of 42nd at six-under-par in the Shell Houston Open last month perhaps gives a better indication that he might be trending in the right direction as he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph.


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