By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Winning a first major title has often led to a drop-off in form as expectations mount but Charl Schwartzel, for the most part, has managed to avoid that pitfall.
Since storming to victory by four shots at the 2011 Masters, the slender South African has been a regular fixture on tournament leaderboards and has won twice in his last six starts worldwide.
On Friday, the 28-year-old from Johannesburg fired a sparkling four-under-par 67 in the second round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club to move into contention for yet another title.
"I thought I did pretty well," Schwartzel told reporters about his overall form since his spectacular breakthrough at Augusta National. "I thought I played very consistent golf, competed a few times.
"2011 was a good year for me and then 2012 came and wasn't so great. I picked up a few injuries and that sort of thing. But it is difficult. You've got to go through it to actually realize what it (winning a major) does to you.
"It's a learning curve but it's something that I would love to go through again."
Asked if time management had been his biggest problem after being thrust into the media spotlight following his Masters win, Schwartzel replied: "I think so. And also you've got so much pressure on you, a lot from yourself, too.
"Once you win something like that (the Masters), you believe you can win anything out there. It doesn't get bigger than that.
"So when you play in a normal event, you think there's no reason why you shouldn't win, and that pressure comes from yourself. In this game, you don't want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself."
Schwartzel, who the Thailand Golf Championship in December by 11 shots and the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Championship the following week by a staggering 12 strokes, was delighted with his form at Riviera on Friday after shaking off jet lag.
He had bogeyed his final hole for an opening 69 on Thursday, having made the long trip from South Africa to California after finishing second at last week's Joburg Open.
"I'm very happy," Schwartzel, who became the third South African to win the Masters, grinned after mixing five birdies with a lone bogey to finish at six-under 136.
"I played some solid golf a few times where I probably should have made bogey and I made some good par saves.
"At least I put myself in position for the weekend. There are still 36 holes to go and if I keep playing like I am, you know, who knows."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)