Masters joy for swinging Schwartzel

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AUGUSTA, April 11 – Charl Schwartzel called it himself after moving into Masters contention on Friday, saying that his time had come to become a South African winner of a major.

The 26-year-old from Johannesburg joined the European Tour eight years ago and since then he watched, and applauded, South African triumphs in the majors for Retief Goosen at two US Opens, Trevor Immelman at the Masters in 2008 and Louis Oosthuizen at last year’s British Open.

Schwartzel has now joined the club as he said he would and he paid tribute in particular to close friend Oosthuizen, who left the world’s best golfers trailing by seven strokes at St Andrews last July.

"That was a huge inspiration," he said.

"To see Louis win The Open Championship the way he did, you know, we grew up together from a young age.

"We played every single team event, tournament against each other, and we represented South Africa for so long.

"You know, we always travelled together, so we basically are the best of mates.

"To see him win there was just such a big inspiration. We play almost every single practice round together, as well.

"Just to see him do it made me realize that it is possible, and just sort of took me over the barrier of thinking that a major is too big for someone to win."

There were other tributes from the quietly spoken and modest Schwartzel.

South African great Ernie Els has been a key figure with his academy back home aimed at nurturing young South African golfing talent such as himself an Oosthuizen.

His father on the chicken farm near Johannesburg who introduced him to the game of golf as a young boy and who gave him the best tip he ever had – to keep it simple.

And Masters legend Jack Nicklaus took the time out here last year to give the young South African a first-hand account of how to best play Augusta National.

All of those influences bore fruit spectacularly on Sunday as Schwartzel chiped in with a six-iron at the first, hit a wedge stone dead at the third and then birdied the last four holes for a 66 to win the year’s first major.

The experience, he said, had been like nothing else he had felt in his golfing career.

"There are so many roars that go on around Augusta. Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. There’s always a roar," he said.

"Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard.

"But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at, and I think that sort of helped."

Schwartzel’s win will have delighted South Africans, but it will have put a damper on the celebrations that were about to get underway in Australia to mark the first win for a player from that country in the Masters.

There were no hard feelings though from Adam Scott, who led with two holes to go only for Schwartzel’s amazing finish to snatch the prize away at the post.

"He’s a very quiet, unassuming guy, and I think not prominent in everyone’s mind," he said.

"But among the European Tour players, you must have seen it today, he hit some beautiful shots. He’s got a hell of a golf swing.

"I played with him a few times last year, and certainly he’s a guy when you’re out playing with him and you see him strike the ball, you take notice, because it’s pretty impressive."

Schwartzel will now look to build on a win that will see his world ranking soar to a career-best 11th and already he will be seen as a potential winner of the British Open at Royal St George’s in July as his links game is considered one of the best around.

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