Charl Schwartzel tightened his grip on the Thailand Golf Championship yesterday, taking a five-shot lead into the final day as he edged closer to ending a wretched 20-months without a win.
Schwartzel, who has not tasted victory since the US Masters last year, kept the chasing pack at arms-length with a controlled four-under 68 for the day, giving him 18 under overall at the Asian Tour event.
While it was not as polished as his flawless matching 65s in the opening two rounds, the South African enters today confident of a pillar-to-post victory.
“I feel comfortable, I won’t change [my approach] I will just keep playing ... it’s a game of patience and if it’s my time, it’s my time,” said Schwartzel, who was runner-up at the event last year.
Sweden’s Daniel Chopra is in second at 13-under overall, after a three-under 69, while home favorite Thitiphun Chuayprakong gamely notched five birdies to offset four bogeys to finish a shot behind.
However, Schwartzel’s solid putting, including an eagle at the 11th, gave him welcome breathing space at the top of the leaderboard with 18 holes left to play.
“It’s very difficult with it being so hot,” he said of the scorching temperatures in Chonburi over the last three days, attributing his consistent low scoring to great “saves” of poor tee shots as much as dropping in the birdies.
“I’m a bit tired, but it helps when you are in the lead ... with a bit of adrenaline,” he said.
Thitiphun has delighted the home crowd with his golf over three days, scoring 66-67-71, while Thailand’s Asian Tour veterans Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee have found it harder in the blazing sun.
“There’s a bit of pressure playing with Charl Schwartzel, but today I coped with it,” a smiling Thitiphun told reporters. “I was a little nervous at the first tee, but after I hit the ball the nerves were all gone.”
Thitiphun is known for his mellow demeanor and goes by a Thai nickname which translates as “too relaxed,” given by his parents for a habit of taking his time.
However, in something of a breakthrough year he has shown he is in a hurry to make it on the Asian Tour, producing some eye-catching performances to be ranked 44th on the tour’s Order of Merit.
Behind the leading group the big names finally made a charge, with Ryder Cup star Sergio Garcia scoring a 68 to leave him 10-under for the tournament and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts finally finding some form to end the day seven-under overall.
Defending champion Lee Westwood repeated his two-under 70 of the first day, leaving him at seven-under, where he was joined by Masters champion Bubba Watson and Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who both disappointed.
Taiwan’s Lu Wen-teh had a round of 74 to leave him tied for 47th on 216. Compatriot Sung Mao-chang was four shots further back in joint-62nd place.
Additional reporting by Staff writer