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Charl Schwartzel reaping rewards

South Africa's Charl Schwartzel ultimately made the right decision but it required initial sacrifice and a lot of soul-searching along the way.

Eager to win the Sunshine Tour order of merit for a record-equaling third season in a row, Schwartzel surrendered his place at last month's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona.

It was the first time he had qualified for the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) event but his decision to pull out reaped reward when he clinched his country's order of merit title and, with it, a spot in this week's WGC-CA Championship.

"It was a difficult decision for me," the 22-year-old from Johannesburg told reporters on Tuesday during preparation for Thursday's opening round at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

"Obviously I wanted to play in my first Match Play and I also wanted to see if I could win the order of merit in South Africa for the third time.

"I wanted to become the first South African to win it three times. Mark McNulty previously won it but he is classified as a Zimbabwean."

McNulty, who has since acquired Irish citizenship, clinched the first of his three consecutive order of merit titles after the 1984-1985 season.

"It was a bit tight coming into the last event, which fell the same week as the Match Play," Schwartzel said.

"There were three guys who could still win it and all three of those guys were playing well the previous week."

The 2006-2007 Sunshine Tour order of merit crown hinged on the season-ending South African PGA Championship where Schwartzel achieved his goal by tying for third place, two strokes behind the winner.

"Going into the last round, Andrew McLardy, who was one of the contenders, was leading by two shots and I saw one of my dreams slipping away a little bit," Schwartzel said.

"But fortunately for me, he didn't play too well. I shot 65 and finished third, which was enough for me to win the order of merit."

Schwartzel, who clinched his maiden European Tour title at the 2005 Dunhill Championship in South Africa, conceded he had spoken to a few people for advice on his initial decision.

"I spoke to a lot of guys but all of them, in the end, said: 'Well, it's all up to you.'

Although Schwartzel did not consult directly his childhood idol Ernie Els, it was just as well he did not seek out the option favored by the three-times major winner.

"I phoned (manager) Mark Bell who looks after Ernie and Ernie was standing next to him," Schwartzel recalled.

"Ernie heard what was going on and he said I should go play the Match Play."

Schwartzel, making his fourth appearance in a WGC event, is scheduled to tee off at 1150 local (1550 GMT) in Thursday's opening round along with American Charley Hoffman and Stuart Appleby of Australia.


March 21, 2007

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