One should never underestimate the nastiness of the Fancourt Links and, after two rounds of low scoring, the course bit back on Saturday with Charl Schwartzel’s 68 the best round of the day and one of only 10 that were under-par.
Schwartzel’s outstanding round was enough to get the South African within a shot of the lead and the Masters champion achieved it despite having to get treatment for a sore elbow moments before he teed off.
“I only hit about 10 balls on the range because my elbow was giving me quite a few problems. The physio, Karen, gave me a quick stretch and hurt me a bit, but it was just a tight nerve and I never felt it on the course,” Schwartzel said after his round.
“But today was a lot tougher out there and to shoot five-under was very satisfying. I hit the ball the best I have in a long time, it was just flawless shot after flawless shot.”
Considering the carnage going on all around him, it was a top-class effort by Schwartzel to only make one bogey in his round, on the par-three 11th. In fact, the Masters champion could have posted a still better score were it not for a balky putter.
“All my birdies were basically tap-ins. The ball just wouldn’t go in the hole otherwise. It feels like I’m hitting good putts, I’m not starting them on-line and when I do, I’m just reading them wrong,” Schwartzel complained.
A blustery, gusting wind combined with steady showers to make Fancourt a treacherous place on Saturday.
“The wind and misty rain made it difficult. I was hitting four-irons into the wind where normally I’d be hitting a seven-iron. That’s how short the ball is going, the fairways are also a lot softer, and it’s very difficult hitting long-irons into these greens. You need to be wide awake and commit to whatever shot you’re playing because the margins are not big out there,” Schwartzel said.
Ironically, the one time the 27-year-old did take a chance, it paid off with an eagle-three at the ninth hole.
“I was actually considering laying up short of the ditch because there was a chunk of mud on the left side of the ball. The rule of thumb is that the ball will normally fly the opposite side of the mud and the wind was also off the left. But I was hitting the ball off a steep right-to-left slope, which tends to cause a pull, so I thought it would counter-balance the mud and wind. I had 264 yards and I hit a two-iron to six inches!” Schwartzel said with only a touch of exaggeration.
Schwartzel once again expressed his belief that the local golfers were favoured to win the title because of their course knowledge.
“You can’t come here and play one practice round and think you’re going to conquer the course. You need to know it really well because a lot of the slopes you can use to your benefit, but a lot of them can bite you,” he said.