Double bonus for Schwartzel
Houston - South African Charl Schwartzel has two good reasons to be happy competing at this week's Houston Open in Humble, Texas, as he prepares for his Masters title defence the following week.
Not only does the 27-year-old love the par-72 layout at the Redstone Golf Club but he enjoys the added benefit of a course that is set up to provide similar conditions to Augusta National for the season's first major.
"It's always one of my favourite events, and not because it's the week before the Masters," Schwartzel, who stormed to his first major title with a four-birdie finish at Augusta National last year, told reporters at Redstone on Wednesday.
"The way they set up the golf course, it's known to be very good practice for Augusta but I just like the golf course as it is. It's just a bonus that they do set it up very similar (to the Masters)."
Schwartzel tied for third at the 2010 Houston Open and has produced good form this season with two top-five finishes in his first four starts on the PGA Tour.
"I know when I play at my best that I can compete with the best," said the South African, who made a brief preparatory trip to Augusta National last week. "That's what I work towards.
"For next week, I'm very excited. It's going to be a big week, and I'm going to try and keep it as normal as possible."
Ever since the Houston Open became the final tune-up event for the Masters in 2007, the Redstone layout has mimicked Augusta National with light rough and fast greens surrounded by shaved run-off areas.
"They really go the extra mile with the details, combing the fairways back against the tee boxes, inch and a quarter rough, the firmness and speed of the greens," said 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell.
"It's a nice test without being too difficult. This looks like it's going to be a great week's preparation (for the Masters)."
British world No 3 Lee Westwood also plans to make the most of the Augusta National-like conditions at Redstone.
"It's nice to have the benefit around the greens, playing similar kinds of shots, and they have got them really quick here as they do next week," said the Englishman, who tied for 11th at the 2009 Houston Open and finished joint eighth the next year.
"The greens (in England) are in poor condition this time of the year and you can't get them faster. It will be hard for me to go from being at home to straight into competitive play at Augusta."
Also competing in a strong field this week is three-times Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who defends the title he won by three shots last year when he closed with a sizzling seven-under-par 65.