| AUGUSTA, Georgia
AUGUSTA, Georgia Louis Oosthuizen learned more about the Augusta National Golf Club from missing the halfway cut last year than he did by coming perilously close to winning the Masters in 2012, the South African said.
The 2010 British Open champion failed to qualify for the weekend 12 months ago after rounds of 74 and 76 gave him a six-over-par tally of 150.
"Last year I missed the cut but I learned so many things about where they put the pins here and about where not to go on this course," Oosthuizen told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the first major championship of the season.
"That's what people like Phil Mickelson know so well," he added in reference to the triple Masters champion. "They have been playing here for so many years that they know where to go and where not to go.
"It wasn't that my shots last year were so bad it was just that when you get to those trouble spots you know you can't go there again. That's a pretty big thing here."
Oosthuizen, who lost out to American Bubba Watson in a playoff two years ago after having produced a magical albatross two at the second hole in the closing round, said it was particularly important to avoid dropping strokes at Augusta.
"The more you play here the better you understand the course," said the 31-year-old affectionately known as 'Shrek' on the tour.
"You always need to be thinking about putting yourself in a position where you can take the trouble away, keep the bogeys off your card.
"The guys that come here and really attack the pins are probably going to make a lot of birdies because you can pick up a lot of shots here," said Oosthuizen, a golf brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz who are a global sponsor of the Masters.
"But those guys are also likely to have double bogeys and triple bogeys because that's what this course can throw at you. When you miss the cut you find yourself in some spots where you simply can't go."
Oosthuizen was sidelined for almost three months last year due to a bulging disc in his back.
He has noticed an improvement in recent weeks but the injury means he has hardly been unable to practice since October.
"The back is fine at the moment," said the world number 35. "Some mornings it's a little bit niggly but nothing close to how it was a few months ago.
"It was definitely not good last year. I really struggled with it and I know it's always going to flare up every now and then.
"There is not much we can do about it and I just have to manage it. It's a strange thing because after a week off I feel great but then I play two or three rounds of golf and it's not the same.
"Since October I haven't been able to practice at all until two weeks ago and on the PGA Tour you can't just go out and play. The standard among the guys is too strong."
Having gone so close to pulling off his second major victory in 2012, Oosthuizen is even more motivated to mount a challenge this week.
"Two years ago I played really well," he said. "I got close to getting the green jacket and I'm certainly pumped up to put myself in that position again.
"You have to be sharp with all aspects of your game at Augusta. You need to put yourself in the best spot off the tee and hit the longest drive you can but I think this is really a second-shot course.
"If you leave yourself with an awkward putt on the greens it can be very tricky here. Sometimes it's better to leave yourself with a 40-foot uphill putt than it is to have a 15-putt downhill putt."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)