Luck and experience helped boost former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel to an impressive three-under-par 69 at wind-whipped Augusta National on Friday.
The 37-year-old South African, who donned the Green Jacket in 2011, had five birdies and two bogeys in the only sub-70 round among the morning starters on Friday.
He shared the clubhouse lead on three under 141 with overnight leader Im Sung-jae of South Korea, whose two over 74 was seven shots worse than his opening effort.
“I think we had a little fortune this morning,” Schwartzel said of the early starters. “It was very cold, but we didn’t deal with a lot of wind for the first five or six holes.
“It started picking up around 7, 8, and then the back nine it was pretty much this,” he said of the gusty conditions. “It got hard.
“Down the bottom there around Amen Corner, the wind swirls a lot. You know that it’s there. It’s just trying to commit to a shot that was the hardest thing.”
Schwartzel, ranked 172nd in the world, had missed the cut in his last six PGA Tour starts, but he said he arrived at Augusta National confident he could challenge again.
“The bad results didn’t really determine how I felt coming in here,” he 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 well and just looked at old footages, and it’s still there.”
Schwartzel said he studied his swing and “tried to erase all the last couple of weeks”, using footage of his Masters win.
What struck him most when watching that video?
“Putting on the Green Jacket at the end.”
With a repeat of that moment as his goal, Schwartzel said he concentrated Friday on minimizing how bad his mistakes would be on a day when “good shots end up bad”.
Schwartzel was delighted to have put up the round he did.
“I think anybody would be happy shooting level par,” he said. “If you shoot three under, that’s a bonus.”
Schwartzel’s birdies included one at the par-three 16th, where his 7-iron off the tee left him a four-foot putt for birdie.
“I took dead aim,” he said. “Felt like a really good swing and picked it up and it sort of bounced further than I thought it was going to. Then it looked like it was in a good line.
“The people started getting out their chairs. I thought it might go in,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse