Johannesburg - A four-stroke winning margin may suggest Charl Schwartzel won his
second successive Joburg Open title with ease at the Royal Johannesburg
and Kensington Golf Club on Sunday, but it was far from the truth for
the world number 32 as his swing deserted him on the back nine.
Click to vote and WIN in the Sport24 Annual AwardsFortunately for Schwartzel, there was no one to catch him though, and the Johannesburg-born golfer was able to smile impishly after coming through a painful back nine with his title hopes intact.
"I was hitting into bushes most of the time, it was a tough back nine, and I had to dig deep and trust my short game," Schwartzel said after his sixth European Tour triumph. "I couldn't hit the ball on to the fairways because I couldn't complete my backswing properly, but I said at the beginning of the week that my mind was in the right place and that's what pulled me through.
"I was slightly out with my timing and I got lucky a few times when I missed the fairway, but still had a shot. But I did what I needed to do to win, you have to find a way and I took advantage of my luck," Schwartzel said.
Garth Mulroy and Thomas Aiken, who began the day tied with Schwartzel in the lead, and were just one stroke back at the turn, failed to take advantage of the 26-year-old's woes off the tee.
Schwartzel said it was still a close-run thing and it could easily have been one of his fellow South Africans who lifted the crystal trophy at the end.
"It's such a funny game, there's such a fine line. Thomas and Garth played fantastic golf, they drove the ball very well and if you're putting the ball in the fairway every time, things can change very quickly. They definitely put the pressure on me, but they just couldn't make the putts," Schwartzel sympathised.
It was a tremendous coup for the willowy golfer when he escaped with pars on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes, despite wayward tee shots.
On the 10th, Schwartzel's drive was into the trees, but it bounced out into the semi-rough. His second, however, was even a greater distance off-line, but he managed to roll in a monster 35-foot putt for par.
Schwartzel was right of the fairway on the 11th and could only chip out sideways, but a superb third shot left him with a five-foot putt for par as both Mulroy and Aiken took steps backward with bogeys on the par-four as they flirted with the water around the green.
Schwartzel has always brought a tremendous work ethic to the table, and his hard graft on his short game paid off on the 12th and 13th holes as he sank a curling 10-foot putt for par and then chipped in from the greenside bunker on 13.
"I relied on my short game and putting and all the work paid off. Last night I went to the putting green and found what I was doing. I fought really hard today," he said.
The gap became four when Schwartzel once again missed the fairway on 18 and had to punch the ball out from behind a tree. But his third shot, a 112-metre sand-wedge, was brilliant and on to the flag, leaving him with a six-foot putt for birdie and a grandstand finish.
The victory hands Schwartzel a handy lead of nearly 150 000 euros over compatriot Louis Oosthuizen at the top of the Race to Dubai standings, and next week's HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi will see them rekindle their friendly rivalry.
Both young South African stars will also be competing in America this year, and both Oosthuizen and Schwartzel have had ideal starts to the new year with victories in East London and Johannesburg respectively.
"I've had a great run in the last four tournaments and I'm very excited about starting to play in America," Schwartzel said, following his win in the Joburg Open, fourth place in the Africa and South African opens and runners-up finish in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
He is likely to find many more parkland courses like Royal Johannesburg and Kensington in the United States and, if he can put the ball in the fairway a bit more often, could well make a huge impact there as well.
Leaderboard after 4 rounds
265 - Charl Schwartzel 68-61-69-67
269 - Garth Mulroy 64-66-68-71
270 - Thomas Aiken 65-64-69-72
271 - Jamie Elson (ENG) 65-64-71-71
272 - Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (FRA) 67-66-67-72
273 - Scott Jamieson (SCO) 70-66-72-65
- George Coetzee 70-65-70-69, Oscar Floren (SWE) 68-68-66-72, James
Kingston 68-62-73-71, Tjaart van der Walt 69-68-70-67, Allan Versfeld
275 - Stuart Manley (WAL) 65-68-73-69
David Drysdale (SCO) 67-65-67-77, Ben Evans (ENG) 66-67-67-76, Branden
Grace 63-68-71-74, Alexander Noren (SWE) 66-69-70-71, Floris de Vries
277 - Carlos del Moral (ESP) 70-65-68-74, Lee Slattery (ENG) 71-66-70-70
- Darren Clarke (NIR) 70-68-71-69, Tyrone Ferreira 69-69-68-72, Daniel
Gaunt (AUS) 68-70-68-72, Keith Horne 69-66-71-72, Lloyd Saltman (SCO)
71-66-69-72, Bradford Vaughan 67-70-68-73, Marc Warren (SCO) 67-66-73-72
Note: Joburg Open co-sanctioned by European Tour and South African Sunshine Tour