SANDWICH, England – Boasting a record in this year’s majors that’s the envy of most of his peers, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel should be regarded as one of the favorites for the British Open.
The 26-year-old South African possesses a decent background in links golf and has enjoyed three weeks of ideal preparation in dry, windy conditions back in his homeland for the year’s third major, which starts Thursday.
However, he is as long as 50-1 by some British bookmakers to win at Royal St. George’s and continue his impressive run of results in 2011, which includes that memorable victory at Augusta as well as a joint-ninth finish at last month’s U.S. Open.
Not that he’s bothered.
“In a way, I’ve always liked playing the underdog and then surprising people,” Schwartzel said. “I’m out there to give it my best and see if I can win this tournament.
“Whether my odds are 200-1 or 12-1, it doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Maybe it’s his disappointing record in previous British Opens that’s putting off the bookies.
A tie for 14th at St. Andrews last year is his best result on these shores. The seven years before that, he failed to qualify twice and missed the cut four times.
One of those missed cuts was at Royal St. George’s in 2003 when, as an 18-year-old player in his first season out of the amateur ranks, he found himself atop the leaderboard early in the first round.
“My first British Open was here – I remember, I think I led after three holes and got such a fright when I saw my name on the leaderboard that that was all I can remember,” Schwartzel said. “After that, it was a bit of a blur.
“It’s what, eight years later. I think I’m a bit more mature and understand the game a bit better.”
That development was demonstrated at Augusta in April, when he took advantage of Rory McIlroy’s meltdown on the final day to emerge from the pack and win his first major, by two shots.
With Louis Oosthuizen the defending British Open champion, South Africa currently holds two of the four major titles, helping the sport blossom in the country.
“There’s lots of youngsters out there that all of a sudden have a really big interest. I’m sure it’s made a big difference to South African golf,” Schwartzel said.
Adding the Claret Jug to the green jacket would give Schwartzel arguably golf’s two biggest prizes.
“As a youngster, those were the two main ones that I used to always think about,” he said. “I’m not going to say which one I think is better or worse. I think they’ve both got their elite stature.”
Choosing to skip last week’s Scottish Open – widely regarded as the main warmup tournament to the British Open – Schwartzel instead preferred to stay in South Africa.
In terms of the weather, he certainly got the better deal, with the Scottish Open plagued by torrential rain and storms that veteran Scottish player Colin Montgomerie described as “end-of-the-world stuff,” reducing it to 54 holes.
“I decided to stay at home. It’s pretty cold right now but we get clear days and with a bit of wind, I figured it would be pretty good practice, which it was,” Schwartzel said.
“The courses are dry so I could really prepare for the way that these courses (at Royal St. George’s) would play. We’ll see how that works out.”