AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National always seems to have a trick or two up their sleeves, testing the invitees with all sorts of setup features that makes the course at times bearable — but just so.
In Friday’s second round of the Masters, the combination of Mother Nature imposing cool weather in the mid-60s, covering the sun with clouds, winds blowing 10-15 mph with gusts increasing to 25-30 mph — not to mention the major setup — made Augusta National a difficult get.
However, the course also seems to have an affinity for former champions, just think back to Jack Nicklaus in 1986 or Tiger Woods in 2019, two big and recognizable names that came from oblivion to capture just one more green jacket and further cement themselves in Masters lore.
One of the characteristics that both Nicklaus and Woods have, as well as anyone else that has won multiple Masters is knowledge and familiarity with where to miss and how to play those misses.
That innate knowledge was the difference for Charl Schwartzel on Friday, making 5 birdies in route to a 3-under 69 in conditions better suited for Canadian geese.
“I think we had a little fortune this morning,” Schwartzel said after shooting his eighth round in the 60s at the Masters. “It was very cold, but we didn't deal with a lot of wind for the first five or six holes. Started picking up around 7, 8, and then the back nine it was pretty much this. It got hard.”
Schwartzel was 26 in 2011 when Phil Mickelson slipped the green jacket on his 5-foot-11, 140-pound frame. Since then he has had four missed cuts versus one top 10, a third in 2017 after a weekend of 68-68.
The South African has not fared much better on Tour since his win at Augusta, with just one victory worldwide at the Valspar Championship in 2016 in a playoff over Bill Haas.
The latest string of struggles has come since the calendar turned to January, as in six appearances in 2022 Schwartzel has yet to play on the weekend with his last missed cut coming at the Valspar.
It was after the missed cut in Tampa that Schwartzel took two weeks off to reassess his game. It may have been the best two weeks off he has ever taken.
“The bad results didn't really determine how I felt coming in here,” Schwartzel said. “I actually took two weeks off, and as the two weeks went by, my confidence grew in belief that I could win this tournament because I was starting to hit it very good and just looked at old footages, and it's still there.”
The now-37-year-old looked at footage of his victory at Augusta and seemingly is now trying to replicate it, 11 years later.
One of Schwartzel’s issues he has identified was the fact that his mind is too active and over the last couple of weeks has worked on staying in the present, trying to execute a golf shot and not worry about what can go wrong because he has been playing too much golf while thinking of what can go wrong.
Coming into the week with betting lines at 300-to-1 and even higher in some spots, Schwartzel was practically the last player the betting public would have thought would be on the leaderboard and certainly not near the top of that board at the hallway point.
Add in the fact that Schwartzel in 209th in Strokes Gained on the PGA Tour and ranked 172nd in the world, statistically Schwartzel looks more like a reclamation project than just 36 holes away from winning a second green jacket.
“On days like today it's sort of minimizing how bad the mistake is going to be because everybody is going to make a mistake,” Schwartzel said. “On 14 I pushed it right, and I wasn't trying to hit the green. I said anything long right, I'll be able to at least give myself a chance at making 4. Managed to do that. Hit long right, and I actually had a really easy shot. I guess there's a few little things like that that it helps knowing the golf course well.”
Whether it's knowledge, luck, history or destiny, Schwartzel will have to draw a little bit on all of it to find a way to hang in there on Saturday and win on Sunday.
When reviewing the old footage of his win in 2011, Schwartzel said he was struck by one thing.
“Putting on the green jacket at the end.”
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