De­fend­ing cham­pion hit by ball, hand goes numb in proam meet

New Straits Times - - Sport -

DE­FEND­ING cham­pion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa was struck on the left wrist by a golf ball Wed­nes­day and with­drew from a pro-am af­ter 10 holes ahead of yes­ter­day’s start of the PGA Valspar Cham­pi­onship.

A ball struck by one of Schwartzel’s am­a­teur play­ing part­ners on the first hole bounced off a tree and struck the 2011 Masters cham­pion, caus­ing his wrist to swell and his hand to go numb briefly.

“I’ve played golf for 28 years now and I’ve never been hit by a golf ball un­til this morn­ing,” Schwartzel said. “It was a bit of a fluke. Re­ally bad luck.”

With ice and painkillers, Schwartzel was con­fi­dent he would make his sched­uled morn­ing start along­side two-time Masters cham­pion Bubba Wat­son of the United States and Swe­den’s sixth-ranked Henrik Stenson, the reign­ing Bri­tish Open cham­pion.

Schwartzel, hop­ing to be­come the event’s first back-to­back win­ner, is es­pe­cially anx­ious to get more rounds played with the Masters less than a month away and be­cause his sore left knee has lim­ited his play so far this year.

“I strug­gled with my knee a lit­tle at the end of the year, and it never re­ally got bet­ter, so by the time it came to Jan­uary for my MRI scan, it turned out I needed a longer break,” Schwartzel said.

“That has ac­tu­ally al­lowed me to be a lot fresher than I think I would have been, to sort out some of my clubs and get some prac­tice done to get my game in shape. I think over­all it’s been a good thing. It was nine weeks ... and it’s the fresh­est I’ve ever been.”

Schwartzel missed the cut in Malaysia and last month at Riviera, but chal­lenged for a top-10 fin­ish last week be­fore a clos­ing 75 left him shar­ing 38th at the World Golf Cham­pi­onships event in Mex­ico City.

“My game feels in re­ally good shape,” Schwartzel said. “I’m re­ally just start­ing out my year. I’ve worked hard. Swing re­ally feels good. Putting well. I just need some rounds. I re­ally need to start play­ing some golf.”

Schwartzel, 28th in the world rank­ings, won last year’s event on the 7,340-yard Cop­per­head course at In­nis­brook by de­feat­ing Amer­i­can Bill Haas with a par on the first play­off hole.

It was Schwartzel’s first US vic­tory since tak­ing his lone ma­jor ti­tle at Au­gusta Na­tional, although he did win four Euro­pean Tour events in his home­land in be­tween.

“I’d like to climb the world rank­ings more this year,” he said. “I’m fo­cused on ma­jors — 2011 is a long time ago.”

Schwartzel said he had ex­pected more wins to come quicker af­ter his ma­jor break­through but spent nearly five years try­ing in vain in US events.

“It just never came, and then I went through a bad thing where my swing was a bit off, and I lost a lot of con­fi­dence and, you know, you start think­ing, ‘Am I ac­tu­ally go­ing to win out here again,’” he said.

Stenson re­turns to ac­tion af­ter a stom­ach virus forced him out in Mex­ico af­ter just 11 holes.

I’ve played golf for 28 years now and I’ve never been hit by a golf ball un­til this morn­ing.” CHARL SCHWARTZEL South Africa player

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