CHARL SCHWARTZEL has been tipped for stardom ever since he won a European Tour card just after his 18th birthday in 2002 – and maybe now it is about to happen.
The 26-year-old's dazzling form this winter continued yesterday when he fired an eight-under-par 64 for a one-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Schwartzel, winner of the Joburg Open for a second successive year last Sunday, is now an incredible 60 under par for his last 13 rounds. Not one of them has been higher than 70.
He had a 61 in the second round last week, but against a stellar field – which includes all four current major champions and world No 1 Lee Westwood – and on a far tougher test, his start to the Tour's gulf swing was probably even better.
"It was a fantastic round," said the world No 23, who in his last four events has finished second, fourth, fourth and first.
"The course is set up the toughest I've seen it. You have to have everything on song otherwise you are going to struggle."
Harrington's round included a chip-in eagle at the 597-yard eighth.
Graeme McDowell said he was "a bit flat" on the front nine, but suddenly found form and with closing birdies for an inward 30 he joined Swedes Alex Noren and Niclas Fasth in third place with a 66.
Sheffield's Danny Willett opened with a 67 to sit three off the lead, although it could have been much better after he played the first 11 holes in six under before dropping two shots and picking up only one more birdie over the closing holes.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson, joint fourth in the world with McDowell, managed only a 71 on his desert debut, but US PGA winner and defending champion Martin Kaymer shot 67 to be well in the hunt for a third win in four years at the tournament.
Westwood, certain to stay top of the pile for at least one more week, kept his hopes of a winning start to 2011 alive with a 69.
Harrogate's John Parry carded a 70 and Hull's Richard Finch a 71, while Malton's Simon Dyson is battling to make the weekend after a 74.
Davis Love III has been named captain of the United States' Ryder Cup team for the 2012 match at Medinah, Chicago.
Sheffield-born Neil Cheetham missed out on one of the three places available in the Open field through international final qualifying in Africa yesterday.
He shot a 71 to miss out by eight shots as Floris de Vries, Martin Martiz and Neil Schietekat qualified.