The spectators set out expecting to see a battle for supremacy between the two Ryder Cup rivals Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson, but by the end of the round the man who had put together the emphatic score in the threeball was Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion who has recently rediscovered his swing.
Schwartzel reckons he has lost about a year of good golf searching for his old game but recognised the hunt might be coming to an end when he managed a seventh-place finish at the US Open last month. “Most of us don’t really do swing overhauls, only Tiger seems to do things like that,” the 30-year-old South African said. “Small little basics fall out of place and the problem is it takes a while before you realise it; it’s gone that far that it takes just as long to fix it. It’s just all back to simple basics, the way it was when I was an amateur. But it was hard to find.”
Schwartzel was round in 67 for a five-under-par total having touched six under at the 14th, only for a 10-minute delay on the next tee while up ahead JB Holmes awaited a ruling over a shot he hit into a gorse bush and which had been retrieved by a child – then thrown back after a parent intervened.
Holmes did not get what he was looking for after a second ruling and made a seven on the hole and his partners would not have thanked him either when standing aside on the 16th tee as the Schwartzel threeball went through.
Poulter, Schwartzel and Watson had endeavoured to keep warm on the 15th tee as the temperature dipped and they stood chatting with hands plunged in pockets and swinging imaginary clubs before Schwartzel eventually donned a pair of mittens. Watson was three under at the time but promptly made bogey and added another at the 17th following a trip into the Road Hole bunker. Schwartzel dropped his second and final shot on the same hole with three putts from the fringe.
The other bogey came at the 2nd, where Schwartzel’s drive finished right of the fairway in a swale and behind the only tree on the hole. He had to take a drop and a one-shot penalty, but a run of four birdies in the next five holes – raising his arms to the heavens after the uphill bump-and-run to tap-in distance that took him under par at the 5th – put him in control and it could have been better as he missed birdie putts at the 8th and 11th.
Schwartzel and Poulter were asked to play out of turn at the 348-yard 12th by Watson, who had only just missed reaching the 352-yard 9th from the tee. In a moment of great theatre the two-times Masters champion gave it another go once the green had cleared and with his partners standing aside two-thirds of the way down the fairway. It finished up just short of the putting surface low on the right and the American had to struggle for his par while the Schwartzel method resulted in a chip and a putt for another birdie.
Watson had said this week that he does not feel he has the game to make an impression at St Andrews as he does not hit the ball straight enough, but he averaged 332 yards with the big stick and was never in trouble, hitting 89% of the greens in regulation. The 33 putts he required compared with the 28 used by Schwartzel was where the American lost out.
Poulter was applauded and encouraged but he had a difficult day, twice finding bunkers off the tee, and managed two bogeys and only one birdie, at the relatively easy 10th where they all made threes. “Beyond disappointing to play well today & not hole putts that you expect to. Difficult game when the longest putt holed was 6ft,” he tweeted afterwards. “The course was very scoreable today, the front nine played very easy. Had to take chances & didn’t. Really poor scoring on those holes.”
Schwartzel plays the Dunhill Links event in the autumn often enough and will be expecting to deal with the worst of the weather after the three of them set off at 2.01pm on Friday, but for the Ryder Cup duo all possibilities remain open.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010