Johannesburg - The European Tour wraps up its South African swing with this week’s Joburg Open, where Charl Schwartzel is back to defend his title at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
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The €1.3-million tournament will be played from Thursday, as the 210-man field plays a round on each of the East and West courses, before the halfway cut is made and the final two rounds will be contested over the East Course.
Schwartzel’s victory last year sparked arguably his most successful season as a professional, in which he won twice, claimed a fourth Sunshine Tour Order of Merit title, and finished tied 30th on his debut at the Masters, and then no worse than tied 18th in the remaining three majors.
It was an extraordinary performance at the Joburg Open by Schwartzel last year, as he dropped shots at precisely two holes: he made a double-bogey six on the 12th in the first round on the West Course, and a bogey five on the third on the East Course in the final round.
“Last year was a spectacular tournament for me,” he said. “I really played some flawless golf. I would say it was probably my best tournament of the year.”
He’s not sure his game is in the same kind of shape at the moment, despite his second-place finish at December’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, fourth at the SA Open and his share of fourth at the Africa Open in East London last week.
“My golf swing’s not quite 100 percent like it was last year,” he said, “but my mind is, so I hope I can manage my way around this year.”
He believes his experience and his strength of mind have got him into the kinds of positions he has been in over the last two tournaments.
“I’ve finished quite a few spots higher than I would have if I’d got down on myself,” he said. “I’ve been backing my chipping and putting a lot, and just by believing and thinking positively, it has saved me quite a few shots.”
But it will take more than just a positive mindset for Schwartzel to win with some tough challengers in the field.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke is also in the field this week, and hoping to improve on his share of second place last year.
“I think the East Course is one of the best tests of golf in the country, and that’s why I like the course,” he said.
“My game is in good shape right now – I’m hitting fairways and I’m hitting greens, but it’s what’s happening after that which is the problem,” he laughed.
But he remains determined to get back into the world’s top 50, and he wants to do that by getting a fast start in South Africa.
However, as he was last year, Schwartzel will be tough to beat as he attempts to join Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman as the only South Africans who have successfully defended a title on the European Tour.
In 25 tournaments co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours, Schwartzel has had 13 top 10 finishes, including three victories.