He didn’t even play it last year, as he tinkered with a schedule that would give him the chance to play better in the majors and in tournaments he really values. But Charl Schwartzel is very much in the field for the Players Championship this week.
And that pared-down schedule means he will feel as ready as ever to do battle with the best players in the world. World number one Dustin Johnson and newly-wed number two Rory McIlroy join defending champion Jason Day to headline what is always the strongest line-up outside the majors. The line-up features 24 of the top 25 in the current world rankings and 55 of the top 60.
Schwarztel, ranked number 17 in the world this week, showed that he is back to the kind of form that won him the 2011 Masters with his third-place finish at this year’s tournament at Augusta National behind champion Sergio Garcia and runner-up Justin Rose.
It’s all about being able to practice with the right kind of focus for Schwartzel and to be able to take what he learns on the range into tournament play with a degree of comfort that he doesn’t get when he tries to make things work during extended runs of tournament play.
It also gives him the chance to enter events like this without the added pressure of expectations bred by performance – or lack thereof.
So, while Johnson goes in with last week’s return to play after injury delivering him a superb second-place finish, and all the expectations that brings, and Day has the weight of defending a title he won so spectacularly last year (together with his course-record equalling 63 in the first round), Schwartzel’s third place in the Masters is now a distant memory – and he likes it that way.
Other South Africans in the field are Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els.
Only one South African has ever won the ‘fifth major’, as the Players is known, and that was Tim Clark in 2010.