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​The South African champion player is “up for the challenge”, with his sights set on a Joburg Open hat-trick, followed by a steady assault on the world number one ranking.
AFTER a memorable Masters triumph in 2011, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel has set his sights even higher for 2012, targeting a record hat-trick of Joburg Open titles this week, as well as defending his Masters title in April and moving closer to the world number one spot.

“I’m up for the challenge,” Schwartzel said of his lofty ambitions on the eve of the first round of the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on Wednesday, 11 January.

“If I can win this week, it would be the first time that I’ve won a tournament three times in a row. So I’ve got something to play for here … As for my other goals, it would be fantastic to be able to retain my Masters title. It will be a tough task, but I’d like to see if I can win it again. Then, obviously, the world rankings is a goal,” he said.

“I made it into the top 10 last year, and I want to see if I can just keep climbing. Luke Donald is obviously playing very well and it will take some time to catch him. But I’ve got to keep moving closer, and the long-term goal is to become world number one.”

The convincing manner in which Schwartzel has won the last two Joburg Opens – by six shots in 2010 and four in 2011 – suggests his first new year’s resolution is well within his reach.

“The East Course is playing long, but I still think the scoring will be low. I’m always looking for a quick start to the year just to get the mind going in the right direction, and this is a great place to do that.”

And his victory in the 2011 Masters, as well as his consistency throughout all four Majors last year, has him feeling even more comfortable at the highest level of the game. “I feel very comfortable in the Majors. I like the toughness of them. I think a lot of guys are probably a bit intimidated by Major golf, but I feel good with that kind of golf.”

A few other Major champions in the Joburg Open field are seeking an equally fast start to the new year. Double US Open champion Retief Goosen is relishing being fit again after a frustrating 2011 in which he was plagued by back trouble.
“I’m working my way back and it’s been nice to have chances to win in my last few tournaments,” he said.

And American Rich Beem is also in the field as the 2002 PGA Championship winner takes advantage of the final year of his European Tour exemption after missing out on a PGA Tour card last year. “I want to play golf and I’m very excited about the opportunity I’ve got this year,” he said.

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