Impressive Schwartzel bucks the trend as Augusta bares its claws

Former champion produces a 69 as windy conditions trouble many of his peers

An unseen nuisance wreaked havoc with the best intentions of those with dreams of acquiring a green jacket in the 86th edition of the Masters, as gusting winds – reaching 30 miles per hour at times – caused players to back off shots and second-guess themselves on a day when mental fortitude was every bit as important as shot-making.

The difficulty of the task at hand was shown by none other than Tiger Woods, who bogeyed four of his opening holes.

Yet, as if to prove someone will always find a way, Charl Schwartzel – a champion back in 2011 but who’d missed six straight cuts before his latest visit to Augusta National – contrived to sign for a second round 69 to set the clubhouse 36-holes target of three-under-par 141 alongside overnight leader Sungjae Im (who had a second round 74).

And, while the gusting, swirling wind was a constant presence from first hole to 18th, there were those, among them Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele, who simply couldn't find a way to navigate a route.

Rory McIlroy, who has rarely found the wind to be a friend, battled mightily hard to ensure that he stayed in the game.

There were times when it looked like his round would unravel, most pointedly with a wild approach shot to the 11th into the gallery and which resulted in a double-bogey.

But the Northern Irishman – still in an ongoing quest to add the Masters to his CV to complete the career Grand Slam – stuck gamely to the task at hand and finished with two birdies in his closing five holes to sign for a 73 (for 146) to ensure he would have the weekend to make inroads.

McIlroy turned in level par, a birdie on the second cancelled out by a bogey on the fifth, but hit a speed bump around the turn with a bogey on the 10th and that inexplicable double-bogey on the 11th only to show his resolve with birdies on the 13th and 16th to remain within touching distance.

“It’s tough, it’s hard to commit to a number,” said McIlroy of the challenge presented.

Major champion

“I’m glad to be off the course at this point. I enjoy the challenge, this is what Major champion golf is all about, it is not easy and it is not meant to be easy.”

He added: “I still feel like I am right there, I am in a decent position. I would like to be a couple of shots better but I am right there!”

Séamus Power, competing in his first Major at the age of 35, had looked a lost cause when six-over standing on the 13th tee but covered the closing six holes in two under for a 74 for 148 to survive the cut, while Pádraig Harrington’s 75 for 149 gave the 50-year-old Dubliner a fighting chance to be around for the weekend.

Shane Lowry, recognised as one of the best wind players in the game, showed his credentials with an impressive display.

Lowry recovered from an opening bogey to record birdies on the second and seventh and another on the 10th and then birdied the 13th (moving to three under on his round and two-under for the tournament ) to get inside the top-five at that juncture of his round.

Schwartzel, with no form whatsoever so far this season, showed that familiarity and a comfort level with the course can play its own part.

Big number

“When you are out of position, it’s how to eliminate a big number because everybody is going to make a bogey. It’s not easy. Good shots end up bad today, so guys are going to have to just hang in there,” explained the South African of a philosophy that stood him in good stead, later joined by South Korea’s Im on that 141 mark.

Of turning his form around, Schwartzel said: “I haven’t felt like I’ve played as badly as my results, though. I tried to tighten the swing up a little bit. Get the hands a little more passive.

“Hands were a little too active. I must be honest. These two rounds are one of the two best ball-striking rounds I’ve had in a very long time,” he concluded.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times