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Schwartzel enjoys year as Masters champion

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

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Knowing just how much the folks at Augusta National Golf Club like curve balls, Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel is still waiting on a ruling for his unconventional Champions Dinner request.

Schwartzel hopes to cook a traditional South African braai himself, but with 42 days until he'll host the annual meal for his fellow champions his barbecue tongs haven't received clearance.

"We're still waiting for confirmation if it will be allowed, see how it works," Schwartzel said Tuesday. "Their initial response was obviously, 'We'll come back to you on that.' I think it took them quite by surprise, maybe expecting something a little more different or more the way they always do it."

Schwartzel is as close to a regular guy as you get wearing a green jacket. He doesn't like fancy sit-down dinners and prefers a relaxed meal standing around a fire with friends and cooking the meat himself.

"I just find sometimes that I don't enjoy these functions that are formal," he said. "You sit down, the food comes. I like it to be fun and relaxed, something that everyone will eat. If you bring in funny sort of foods, not everyone eats it. That's not what you want. I think everybody must be able to eat it and everybody must be able to enjoy it."

Whether Schwartzel gets to enjoy a casual hang with his Masters Club peers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson under the tree before the Masters is not going to make or break his experience as the defending champion at Augusta. Where he's really looking forward to hanging out with those guys is on the golf course week after week at golf's biggest venues.

The prospect of both Woods and Mickelson regaining their former form and contesting a new generation of golfing greats is the underlying theme so far in 2012. Schwartzel, one of the major players in that new alignment, makes his season debut on the PGA Tour this week as a No. 3 seed in the WGC Match Play in Arizona, while Woods is a No. 5 seed in another bracket.

"To see him come back this year, he's obviously playing a lot better," Schwartzel said of Woods. "We all can see that. It's good for the game and it's good for us. To challenge us against a player of that caliber, it can only be beneficial to us if you're up for the challenge."

Schwartzel proved up to that challenge in Augusta last April. While the past two seasons have been mostly a wash for Woods, he proved to be a central figure on Sunday at the Masters when he made a front-nine charge to claim a share of the lead only to coast down the stretch. Schwartzel zoomed past the four-time Masters champion and eight other contenders with an unprecedented closing kick of four consecutive birdies to win by two strokes.

"For me, one of the nicest things at Augusta was to see Tiger come up the leaderboard," Schwartzel said. "Obviously what he's done for golf - major events, tournaments he's won - if you can beat a guy like that on a Sunday afternoon in a major championship, you know you've achieved something in your career. To see him come up there urged me on even more and put me up to the challenge even more because those are things that you dream of, things that you practice for in this game, to play a guy like that."

As proof of that, Schwartzel has traveled all of the world with the green jacket as his constant companion. Unless he repeats, he'll be forced to leave the jacket in the Champions Locker Room and only get visits with it when he comes to town and gets treated to dinners by other defending champs.

Schwartzel currently ranks 11th in the world and has made the cut in eight consecutive majors, finishing top 20 in seven straight. What does he plan to do differently to defend his title in April?

"Nothing - last year worked," he said with a laugh. "I think probably the biggest challenge this year is there's obviously going to be more eyes on you, people would want to see whether you can live up to the challenge. But that's something I have to get around in my head not to worry about. I have to go out there and treat it as a new tournament, just give it my best."

If nothing else, he'll have a nice dinner to enjoy and perhaps one less piece of luggage to carry through airports.

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