South African star Charl Schwartzel overcame the sweltering heat with an equally hot round at the Thailand Golf Championship on Thursday as he shot a seven-under-par 65 to take the first day lead.
The 2011 Masters Tournament winner was bogey-free at the $1-million Asian Tour event as he signalled his intent to go one better after finishing runner-up at Amata Spring Country Club last year.
Highly rated Thai youngster Thitiphun Chuayprakong, who finished third at the Venetian Macau Open in October, eclipsed many of the worldÂs top players with a superb 66 to outscore reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson (68), EuropeÂs Ryder Cup star Sergio Garcia (69) and title holder Lee Westwood (70).
The 20-year-old Thai put on a battling display to trail the slender Schwartzel by one in the penultimate event of the 2012 Asian Tour season.
Asian Tour Qualifying School graduate Javi Colomo of Spain continued his recent good run by making a crucial eight-foot par save on the last for a share of third place with SwedenÂs Daniel Chopra on matching 67s.
Schwartzel, who has finished fifth, third and second in his last three events, continued to show form that earned him his first major win last year after recovering from a chest injury which affected much of his game this season.
ÂIÂm just playing injury free and thatÂs allowing me to swing the club better. When you are playing with injury, you always try to protect that injury and the consequence is a bad swing. In the last month and a half IÂve been able to get my swing back to where I want it to be. My consistency is coming back and thatÂs the key for me,Â said Schwartzel, who sank six birdies on the card.
The world number 27 is aiming to nail his first victory since his Masters triumph but knows he must continue to overcome the steamy and humid conditions at Amata Spring. ÂIt definitely affects you. It is as hot as IÂve gotten on a golf course for a long time. I suppose all you can do is take a lot of liquid. ThereÂs no escaping the heat. You just got to grind it out.
ÂIt is nice to put yourself in position. You wonÂt win a golf tournament in the first round but you sure can lose it. IÂve got no expectations. I feel that if I continue to play like how I did then I can find the result which IÂm looking for. It is still early days to predict anything right now,Â he added.
Big-hitting Watson drew the crowds out in his morning round but endured a mixed day with six birdies, one eagle and four bogeys to end the day three back from Schwartzel in his debut appearance at the Thailand Golf Championship, now the premier championship in Thailand due to the quality of the field.
ÂIt didnÂt feel that good. It was a solid round but I made a few mistakes. Hit a cart path and bounced into the woods and had to take an unplayable and had a three putt on 17. Just little things like that. I finished with a birdie on the last so all in all, I guess itÂs not too bad,Â said Watson.