Schwartzel already feeling Masters spotlight

By 21 February 2012 09:46

Charl Schwartzel still has six weeks before defending his Masters title, but the South African already figures the glare of the spotlight could be the biggest hurdle to repeating as champion.

"Probably the biggest challenge this year is there's obviously going to be more eyes on you, people would want to see whether you can live up to the challenge," Schwartzel said.

"But that's something I have to get around in my head not to worry about. I have to go out there and treat it as a new tournament, just give it my best. As long as I prepare properly, give the golf the attention it needs that week."

Schwartzel, who birdied the last four holes to win the title last year, plans to keep it simple when it comes to changes -- "Nothing. Last year worked."

For Schwartzel, that meant long weeks of pre-Masters putting practice to cope with the trademark undulating greens of Augusta National.

"The greens at Augusta are the biggest factor, the thing the guys are most concerned about," Schwartzel said.

"I practiced for about six, seven weeks before I got there to putt on those fast greens. I think that's what made me feel so comfortable. I wasn't scared of the greens at all."

In fact, Schwartzel said he used them to his advantage.

"Augusta, if you know the greens well, you can actually use them to your benefit more than what should be a disadvantage or that you should be scared of them," he said. "But you really need to know them like the back of your hand.

"I was fortunate. I asked a few guys, some of the best putters in the world, I asked them what they did on the very fast greens, and they gave me a bit of advice. It worked out for me."

For Schwartzel, it meant seeking out the most difficult putting areas at every event he played and practicing over and over again.

"Every week that I played, I went and found the fastest spot I could find on the putting green, downhill putts," Schwartzel said. "The biggest thing you actually learn is to make a small stroke.

"You play week in and week out on fast greens, but not nearly as fast as you get at Augusta. The biggest adjustment is to learn to make a little stroke and be consistent with it. That's what helped me.

"I felt very comfortable making a little, small stroke. I felt really comfortable even when I had fast putts."

So when Schwartzel had to become the first player to birdie that last four holes to win the Masters, that comfort zone helped him manage the feat.

"While you're doing it, the last thing you're thinking about is that you've made four birdies," he said.

"I'm trying to win the Masters. It never even crossed my mind when I finished that I just made four birdies. I was just happy that I had won my first major championship.

"Obviously, it became quite a thing. I realized nobody ever had done it. People started talking about it quite a bit.

"To close off any tournament with a couple of birdies or so, would be a fair task. But to do it at the Masters, I think it's something very special.

"All I can say is for some reason that whole week, especially those last few holes, except for the 18th tee, I was very calm -- calmer than I normally am.

"Why that was I've got no idea. That played a big role in me executing the shots I did and making the birdies."

Tiger Woods, a 14-time major champion, was among those in the title hunt who lost out to Schwartzel. The South African would not mind playing 18 holes at Augusta alongside Woods if the chance came this April.

"To challenge yourself against the best that the game's ever seen, I would love to do it," Schwartzel said.

"If you can beat a guy like that on a Sunday afternoon in a major, you know you've achieved something in your career.

"To see him come up there urged me on even more and put me up to the challenge even more. to see him come back this year, he's obviously playing a lot better. To challenge us against a player of that calibre, it can only be beneficial to us if you're up for the challenge."

Source: AFP