“It was a bit of misfortune when I tore my intercostal at the U.S. Open in June– I don’t even know how it happened, I basically sat down and could hardly breathe. The doctor said you can cough and it can happen,” Schwartzel said at Sun City, where he is hoping to end the year on a high by becoming the first South African to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge in five years.
Schwartzel’s year had actually been fairly successful up till then, with nine top-20 finishes in 13 events, but the injury pretty much ruined the rest of his year and the three-time Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner is only now starting to get his game back on an even keel.
“My golf had been pretty good before that, but the injury put a halt to that. Then I came back two or three weeks early because I wanted to play in the Open, but I created some bad habits in my swing to play around the injury. That led to a lot of inconsistency and frustration,” he explained.
The 2011 Masters champion played in the SA Open at Serengeti two weeks ago and said he was still struggling to string together the four good rounds he needed to actually win a tournament. Schwartzel tied for fifth in the national open after shooting a disappointing 74 in the third round, but he went to town last week in Dubai, rounds of 68-67-67-68 leaving him in a tie for third in the lucrative World Tour Championship.
But he still believes it is too early to say he is now back to his best and he is not talking up his chances of winning at Sun City.
“For the last month-and-a-half I’ve been pain-free and I’m getting the swing back to where it was. But it’s been a long process coming back from that injury and I’m not expecting anything this week. If I have a good week and play the way I know I can, then I’m easily capable of winning. But it’s too early to say what’s going to happen, even though things are definitely turning,” Schwartzel said.
Although Schwartzel always projects a relaxed, easy-going demeanour, there is no doubt he is not in the Pilanesberg for a holiday.
“I don’t care who you are, it’s never nice not to play well, so you’re always going to give it your best shot and see if you can win. There’s always a bit of extra pressure on the South Africans as well because most of the crowd want to see one of their own win. You don’t feel like letting everyone down, you want to play well and it just puts a little bit more pressure on you,” Schwartzel admitted.
In terms of the Gary Player Country Club course, Schwartzel agreed with popular opinion among the rest of the field that if you sprayed it off the tee, the narrow fairways and thick rough would be the death knell for your chances.
But he also had a word of warning about the bunkers.
“The course is good, but I think it is probably the worst I have seen the bunkers though. I think the bunkers are really inconsistent and you will see a few guys get lucky and a few guys get plugged lies. But other than that, the course is in good shape and the greens are always good.
“The fairways are a bit narrower, the rough is a bit longer and so I think the winning score will be a little higher than in the past,” Schwartzel said.