Jarmo Sandelin shot a six under par 66 to move into the halfway lead of the BMW Asian Open at the Westin Resort, Ta Shee, one stroke ahead of Miguel Angel Jiménez.
The Swedish Ryder Cup player last won in 1999 when he captured the Peugeot Open de España and the German Open on his way to securing his place in the European Team at The Country Club, Brookline. Last season was disappointing with only two top tens but Sandelin now has his sights set on a fifth European Tour title after moving to 138, six under par.
Jiménez shot a 69 to lie one shot behind on five under par with another Swede Carl Pettersson a further stroke adrift following a 68 alongside two of the pre-tournament favourites, former Masters champions Vijay Singh and José Maria Olazábal.
Sandelin picked up seven birdies and an eagle during his round with three dropped shots but his score could have been even lower as he came within inches of an albatross on the par five sixth and a hole in one on the 18th that would have won him a luxury car from the tournament sponsors.
"When I saw the ball in the air I said: 'Yes, come to me,"' Sandelin said. "I was so close to my car.
"This year has been a lot of struggling but I feel I have a good game and I hope the 2002 season will be much better.
"It feels great to be leading because this is the first tournament for the 2002 Volvo Order of Merit. I've always been confident because I know when I play well I can beat anyone. I just have to be more consistent and I've been working on that so we'll see what happens.”
Jiménez, who also made his Ryder Cup debut in 1999, is also hoping to launch his 2002 campaign in winning fashion as he seeks a seventh European Tour title. Like Sandelin, the Spaniard won twice in 1999, capturing the Turespaña Masters and the Volvo Masters but victory has eluded him for the past two seasons. Jiménez made three birdies in a flawless round of 69.
Olazábal shot a second successive 70 with three birdies and a bogey, crediting a longed-for improvement in his driving for his display.
"Even though it's a fraction late it's better late than never!" said Olazabal, who consulted coach Pete Cowen at the Volvo Masters Andalucia.
"It's a combination of what Pete said and what I have been working on all year long, widening the backswing and opening the clubface a little. It's worked these two days and hopefully it will from now on.”
Singh, who was made an Honorary Member of The European Tour in May, is seeking a hat-trick of victories in Asia this year after capturing the Carlsberg Malaysian Open and the Caltex Singapore Masters in successive weeks in February.
"I'm comfortable in Asia and you don't have to shoot the lights out to win over here,” said the Fijian. You still have to play good golf but you need to be more patient."