MALELANE, November 29 – It took him two days short of two years, and when victory came again for Charl Schwartzel in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Club on Sunday, it was fitting that it came at his favourite golf course in the world.
He pieced together a workmanlike two-under-par 70 in the final round, giving him a four-stroke edge over runner-up Gregory Bourdy of France, with two other Frenchmen in third and fourth in Benjamin Hebert and the up-and-coming Sebastien Gros.
“I was battling a lot of demons out there,” said Schwartzel after he raised in arms in relief as much as in triumph when he made par on the island green on the 18th of a course where he has won four times and been runner-up on four other occasions – and that’s in 11 starts.
But he spent two years wondering if he was ever going to win again, and those were dark times for the 2011 Masters champion. “Sometimes I wasn’t sure it would ever turn around,” he said. “If people realised the amount of work I have put in to the game over the last 18 months, they might understand why it means so much to me.
“From playing while not seeing how I could ever win again to coming back while still fighting a lot of demons to get it done – I’m pleased to have worked hard and been able to have pulled this off.”
It’s one for the record books, too, in many ways: Schwartzel became the first South African to win the same European Tour tournament four times; he became the latest South African to win 10 European Tour titles after Ernie Els and Retief Goosen; and he now tops the list of South African winners on tournaments co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and European Tour with seven wins, one more than Els.
It was anything but pretty over the final two rounds for Schwartzel, after he had unfurled an exquisite opening 66 in the first round, and followed it with a five-under 67 in the second. His third round was almost painful to watch as he hit only three of 14 fairways, and he hurried off to the range immediately after that round to ‘find something’.
“I felt more comfortable today,” said Schwartzel. “I didn’t play much better, but I chipped and putted well and that’s where scoring lies.”
He reached the turn at one-over for the round, and he was able to get things going on the back nine. “I needed to get at least two- or three-under on the two par-fives to give myself a really good chance of winning and I was very pleased to go three-under on the back,” he said.
He made birdie on 11, and then back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, and that catapulted him clear of the French pursuers and afforded him a degree of comfort coming home.
“From a personal point of view, I think being able to win again and finding my feet slowly again – that’s been the biggest thing for me today,” he said.