Golf - Schwartzel extends Thailand advantage

South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel maintained his imperious form to race into a four-shot clubhouse lead at the Thailand Golf Championship on Friday.

The 2011 Masters Tournament champion, runner-up here last year, kept his foot on the pedal with a second straight seven-under-par 65 and a 14-under-par 130 total at the Amata Spring Country Club.

Following a 90-minute weather delay, Schwartzel and his playing partners ran to the 18th tee box to ensure they completed their second round.

A total of 25 players will return at 7.10am on Saturday to finish their remaining holes. Round three is expected to start not before 9am.

Daniel Chopra of Sweden renewed his love-affair with Asia by firing a 67 to trail in second place on 134 in the full-field Asian Tour event while Japan’s Masanori Kobayashi was a further shot back in third place after a 67 as well.

Thai youngster Thithiphun Chuayprakong was alongside Kobayashi at nine-under for the tournament with three holes to complete.

The tournament’s top guns stayed in the title mix. Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa returned a fine 66, sprinkled with nine birdies, to move into contention on 136 while reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia were amongst those on 138.

After being in the chasing pack last year, Schwartzel was delighted to be the front-runner as he pursued his first title in 20 months after his Masters victory. He was pleased to complete his round in near darkness which will give him a few precious extra few hours in bed on Saturday.

“It has been really solid. I’ve put two great rounds together. I hit the ball nicely and gave myself a lot of chances. Those that I missed, I was fortunate to get up and down to save pars. Those are the ones that keep the momentum.

“We were running to finish (the round). I didn’t want to come back at 5am to play one hole. Happy to have a bit of a sleep,” said the 28-year-old, who is bogey free for 36 holes.

With a stellar field chasing him, Schwartzel is keeping his feet firmly on the ground in his hopes of ending his title drought.

“It is still a long way to go," he said. "It’s half the job done. From my side, I just have to keep playing.

“I’ve been reading them (putts) well. The stroke feels good. I’ve gone through a long two years where I’ve missed a lot of putts. A few goes in, it’s nice,” he said.

Chopra, who grew up in India and is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, was happy to contend again on his return to Asia.

“I've been playing beautifully the last two, three months. If anything, my putter had not been really producing the way it normally does, and these first two days I guess coming back to Asia brings out the best in my putter. That's really the only major difference,” said Chopra, who is half Swedish-Indian.

Kobayashi, who came through the Asian Tour Qualifying School in January before winning the Panasonic Asia-Pacific Classic on home soil, knows he must hold his nerve against the top stars to have a shot of winning the Thailand Golf Championship.

“I’m hitting a lot of good shots and it’s easy for me to play. I spent some time earlier this year here to practice. I like this course. The fairways are wide and conditions are good,” said Kobayashi.

“Next few days, I’ll get a bit nervous and I’ll need to keep my rhythm and tempo on the golf course and I’ll be okay.”

Japanese golfer Ishikawa was delighted with his birdie binge but lamented three bogeys, including one on 18 after a wayward drive into thick rough.

“It has been a long time since I shot nine birdies,” said 23-year-old, who has 10 wins in Japan.

“I want to play tomorrow and not only be satisfied with today’s result. This course has been my favourite course for some time. I want to shoot lower scores and be in the last group on Sunday.”

Ryder Cup star Garcia turned in 36 but charged home with three birdies in the closing five holes.

“I’m in a decent position. I would like to do better for the weekend but hopefully if I get a good weekend then I might have a chance,” said Garcia, who is making his second appearance at the Thailand Golf Championship.

Left-hander Watson got hot with three birdies in his opening eight holes but couldn’t keep the momentum going.

“I didn’t make any birdies on the par fives. First couple of tee shots were always in danger and in deep rough and to make birdies that way was tough.

"I hit some good putts but it didn’t go in. Hopefully I can bring it back over the weekend. I’m looking at 65-65 to challenge on Sunday,” he said.

Scores after round 2 of the Thailand Golf Championship being played at the par 72, 7453 Yards Amata Spring CC course (a- denotes amateur):

130 - Charl SCHWARTZEL (RSA) 65-65.

134 - Daniel CHOPRA (SWE) 67-67.

135 - Masanori KOBAYASHI (JPN) 68-67.

136 - Ryo ISHIKAWA (JPN) 70-66.

138 - Sergio GARCIA (ESP) 69-69, Scott HEND (AUS) 70-68, Bubba WATSON (USA) 68-70.

139 - Lee WESTWOOD (ENG) 70-69, Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA) 69-70, Anirban LAHIRI (IND) 70-69, Jbe KRUGER (RSA) 69-70, Darren BECK (AUS) 69-70, Nicolas COLSAERTS (BEL) 72-67, Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) 68-71.

140 - Hunter MAHAN (USA) 71-69, Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 69-71, MO Joong-kyung (KOR) 68-72, Javi COLOMO (ESP) 67-73.