If there was ever a reason to give a golfer a mulligan, it would be because Christiaan Bezuidenhout had his Masters baptism in the November Masters in 2020, instead of its normal April. Perhaps his 2021 start on Thursday will be the real debut the South African Open champion deserves.
The world number 35 has ascended into the kind of company that makes him a realistic contender in any tournament he plays after his back-to-back victories at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open last year on the European Tour.
That includes Majors. He showed just how much he belongs in that kind of company when he birdied his first three holes at Augusta National Golf Club in the opening round of that strangest of Masters last November. Clearly, he was not going to be able to keep that up forever on a course that sneaks up on you just when you might start feeling complacent. He made two bogeys on his back nine, before pulling back a shot with two birdies to register an opening three-under 69.
Middle rounds of 73 and 74 followed, but he made the cut, and a closing one-under 71 saw him finish in a share of 38th behind Dustin Johnson’s superb 20-under-par triumph.
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That was behind the other three players who make up the balance of the small four-man South African contingent which will play in the more familiar April conditions this week: Dylan Frittelli finished a brilliant fifth to secure his return this year; Louis Oosthuizen was 23rd and gets in this year on his world ranking; 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel returns as do all former champions and he was 25th.
Now, as other second-time competitors have noted, it’s time for a fresh start at Augusta. The weather is different, there will be patrons (that’s Augusta-speak for fans) present, and the greens are very different.
Bezuidenhout played a practice round this week with Oosthuizen, and there was much laughter as a chip from just off a green rolled slowly and agonisingly past the hole – and off the green 10 metres away with Oosthuizen instructing his young countryman to wave goodbye to the ball.
But, crucially, Oosthuizen, who is playing his 13th consecutive Masters, then pointed out a spot three metres further from the hole where Bezuidenhout should have aimed his chip.
The truth is that Oosthuizen, like other veterans of the year’s first major, is also still getting to know the course and its vagaries. And if Bezuidenhout has anything to add to his sublime golf skills, it’s that he’s a quick learner.
If he’s internalised enough of the lessons, you can bet that there are going to be some frantic learning sessions in television vans as commentators battle to get their tongues around a name that is very familiar to South African fans.
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