Pacific Palisades, California: Charl Schwartzel believes an improved level of consistency has given him the confidence to embark on a three-month run of sizzling form in which he has vied for victory in almost every tournament he entered. In his last six starts worldwide, the slender South African has won twice, sealed two runner-up spots and added two more top-five finishes, a red-hot spell he rates as the best of his career.
"It's right up there at the very top, this run," the former U.S. Masters champion told Reuters during this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, where he is making his first appearance of the year on the PGA Tour. "I played such nice golf towards the end of the year there and managed to get two wins. And then I have started off this year really well. It's definitely one of the best runs I've ever had. My confidence is high."
Schwartzel, who won his first major title with a scintillating four-birdie finish at the 2011 Masters, romped to victory by a staggering 11 shots at the Thailand Golf Championship in December. The following week, he triumphed by a commanding 12 strokes at the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Championship on home soil and he has since placed second at last week's Joburg Open, also in his native South Africa.
In his last six starts, Schwartzel has won twice, sealed two runner-up spots and added two more top-five finishes.
Schwartzel began the run by finishing fifth at the SA Open Championship in November. He then tied for third at the 2012 European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship before claiming another runner-up spot at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Asked to pinpoint what had suddenly clicked in his game, Schwartzel replied: "I don't really know. It's probably a whole bunch of things.
"I've fixed up my swing, I've played with no injuries and I started playing some really nice golf to build some confidence up. Confidence is such a big key in this game. "And from there, it just sort of snowballs. It's hard to say it was one specific thing. Just getting my consistency back, I suppose."
Hardly surprisingly, there is not one component of his game that Schwartzel believes he needs to address at the moment "Honestly, I have played so well in all parts of my game," the 28-year-old said. "There's nothing you can really pinpoint that needs improving. "Having said that, coming out here to America from South Africa, I've flown a long way and the body doesn't feel as good as it has been. But hopefully it will pick up this week."
Schwartzel, who became the third South African to win the Masters, was hindered during the latter part of 2011 by a rib injury that affected his swing but his health has since been good. While many golfers would have perhaps set loftier goals for the 2013 season had they produced similar form to Schwartzel over the last three months, the Johannesburg-born golfer has no expectations.
"I don't expect anything of anything for this year. Expectation, it's not a good thing," he laughed. "I don't set goals. Goals create expectation and expectation, like I said, is not a good thing." Schwartzel carded a two-under-par 69 in the opening round of the Northern Trust Open on Thursday and, though he marred his day with his only bogey on the final hole, his playing partner Sergio Garcia was suitably impressed.
"He played very nicely," said Spaniard Garcia, who fired a 65 to sit just one stroke off the lead. "He didn't get the most out of his round. The greens were tough in the afternoon and it was difficult to make some putts. "But he looks really, really nice. He's swinging it very nicely and his putting stroke looks really good, even some of the putts he didn't make.
"He's obviously been in great form and it's nice to see. He's a friend of mine and I always enjoy seeing my friends play well."