MIAMI: Defending champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa was struck on the left wrist by a golf ball Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) and withdrew from a pro-am after 10 holes ahead of Thursday’s start of the PGA Valspar Championship.
A ball struck by one of Schwartzel’s amateur playing partners on the first hole bounced off a tree and struck the 2011 Masters champion, causing his wrist to swell and his hand to go numb briefly.
“I’ve played golf for 28 years now and I’ve never been hit by a golf ball until this morning,” Schwartzel said. “It was a bit of a fluke. Really bad luck.”
With ice and painkillers, Schwartzel was confident he would make his scheduled morning start alongside two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson of the United States and Sweden’s sixth-ranked Henrik Stenson, the reigning British Open champion.
“I’m planning on playing, whether I have to limp around or not,” Schwartzel said. “I just hope it’s not something serious because I feel like I’m playing really well. I don’t want to have to sit out because of this silly injury.”
Schwartzel, hoping to become the event’s first back-to-back winner, is especially anxious to get more rounds played with the Masters less than a month away and because his sore left knee has limited his play so far this year.
“I struggled with my knee a little at the end of the year, and it never really got better, so by the time it came to January for my MRI scan, it turned out I needed a longer break,” Schwartzel said.
“That has actually allowed me to be a lot fresher than I think I would have been, to sort out some of my clubs and get some practice done to get my game in shape. I think overall it’s been a good thing. It was nine weeks … and it’s the freshest I’ve ever been.”
Schwartzel missed the cut in Malaysia and last month at Riviera, but challenged for a top-10 finish last week before a closing 75 left him sharing 38th at the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City.
“My game feels in really good shape,” Schwartzel said. “I’m really just starting out my year. I’ve worked hard. Swing really feels good. Putting well. I just need some rounds. I really need to start playing some golf.”
Schwartzel, 28th in the world rankings, won last year’s event on the 7,340-yard Copperhead course at Innisbrook by defeating American Bill Haas with a par on the first playoff hole.
It was Schwartzel’s first US victory since taking his lone major title at Augusta National, although he did win four European Tour events in his homeland in between.
“I’d like to climb the world rankings more this year,” he said. “I’m focused on majors — 2011 is a long time ago.”
Schwartzel said he had expected more wins to come quicker after his major breakthrough but spent nearly five years trying in vain in US events.
“It just never came, and then I went through a bad thing where my swing was a bit off, and I lost a lot of confidence and, you know, you start thinking, ‘Am I actually going to win out here again,’” he said.
Stenson returns to action after a stomach virus forced him out in Mexico after just 11 holes.