Schwartzel in his element birdie-hunting at Leopard Creek
PUT Charl Schwartzel in the middle of the bush and he’s a happy man, whether it’s simply observing nature, doing a little hunting or, as in the current scenario, shooting birdies at the wild and wonderful Leopard Creek Country Club in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
He describes the bushveld classic layout as the course he loves most anywhere in the world.
And it certainly has suited him – with wins in the Dunhill here in 2004, 2012 and a record 24-under-par in 2013.
Yesterday he was at it again in the 17th edition of this Sunshine Tour flagship event, which is co-sanctioned with the European Tour and is the start of the 2016 Race to Dubai.
After a 67 in the second round he stands at 11-under-par 133 and leads by five from fellow South African Richard Sterne (70 yesterday), Spain’s Pablo Martín-Benavides (69), France’s Benjamin Herbert (70) and Dutchman Joost Luiten who eagled the par-5 18th en route to a 70.
Now Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion and ranked as high as No 6 in the world in 2012, hasn’t had the best of seasons which he puts down to a balky putter, although there has been nothing wrong with his long game.
His body language, for the most part, hasn’t been what it should be, although last week in the 2015 Race to Dubai’s sea- son- ending DP World Tour Championship he was looking perkier following a tied fourth finish.
Yesterday, it appeared as if he was almost ready to start dancing on the exquisite Leopard Creek greens as he posted six birdies and a single drop on the course, which borders the Kruger National Park.
Starting at the 10th, he closed off his round at the treacherous par- four ninth, where water surrounds much of the green, with a rare birdie.
“The pin today was very difficult to get to, so I ended up having to make a 15-footer for the birdie and man, it was nice to make that sort of putt.
“I haven’t made many of them for a long time, so to just make a few this week gives me hope,” said Schwartzel.
“I’ve been going through stages where I’d hit putts that miss as they come off the blade.
“At least now I’m hitting putts that are missing but scaring the hole,” he added with a chuckle.
“I just think I feel so very comfortable here.
“I’ve always liked the bush and the setting of the course makes me feel relaxed.
“It’s a lot to do with the layout.
“When I look back over the years I’ve gained confidence in the lines that I hit.
“There are trees almost on every hole where I know where to aim and it feels right,” said the 31-year-old, who has won 12 times around the world, and who this week is again looking like a man who is worthy of another Green Jacket.
Today and tomorrow, among those trying to prevent Schwartzel from lifting this title for the fourth time will be Sterne, winner here in 2008, and Martín-Benavides, champion in 2009 and 2010.
“To shoot 70 today was very pleasing because there was a lot of wind around,” said Sterne, who is trying to find form again after an injuryplagued two years and an horrendous 2015 PGA Tour campaign in the United States.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said a laughing Martín-Benavides after his 69.
“I played well until the TV cameras arrived and then I started hitting bad shots – just like round one.”
Defending champion Branden Grace (73) just made the cut, while his fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen ( 76) missed out.
Oosthuizen was not helped by an horrific eight at the treacherous par-3 sixth where he found water from a greenside bunker, dropped a fresh ball and again ended up in the water, before hitting his sixth shot onto the green and twoputting.
England’s Eddie Pepperell had the day’s best round, a 65, and is at minus-5 with Zimbabwe’s Mark Williams and Australia’s Jason Scrivener.
Overnight leader Christiaan Basson from SA, could only manage a round of 76 after hitting a blistering 64 on Thursday and is on 140 overall.