Schwartzel turned professional at the age of eighteen and following the path of many other leading South African players, he qualified for the European Tour late that year. He was the second youngest South African golfer to do so after Dale Hayes.
In the 2005 season he won the Dunhill Championship, a leading tournament in South Africa that is co-sanctioned by the European Tour, and claimed first place on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit. He finished 52nd on the European Tour’s Order of Merit, and again topped the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. His win at the season-ending Vodacom Tour Championship took him into the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time.
His form continued to improve in 2006 and he finished the season placed 18th on the Order of Merit and reached as high as 55th in the World Rankings.
He took first place on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit for the third consecutive year in 2007, and won the Open de Espaí±a in April, beating Jyoti Randhawa by one stroke, after an eagle at the 497-metre par-5 16th hole, and moved into the world top 40.
After a winless 2009 season, Schwartzel started 2010 by winning two consecutive tournaments on the European Tour, both held in his native South Africa, and re-entered the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings. He finished the season ranked 8th on the Order of Merit.
In 2011, Schwartzel joined the PGA Tour and retained his Joburg Open title, winning by four shots.
Schwartzel won the Masters Tournament in 2011 by two strokes to become the third South African winner of the event (after Gary Player and Trevor Immelman). He won exactly 50 years after Player became the first international Masters champion in 1961. In the final round, Schwartzel overcame a four stroke deficit with a round of 66, two strokes ahead of runners-up Adam Scott and Jason Day.