Friday, 30 January 2004
Thomas Björn of Denmark took another purposeful stride towards capturing his first title on The European Tour International Schedule for almost 18 months when he tagged a 68 onto his opening 64 to open up a two stroke lead at the halfway stage of the Johnnie Walker Classic at Alpine Golf and Sports Club, Bangkok, Thailand.

Björn, who will be 33 next month, did not produce the same level of dynamic golf as he delivered on Thursday, but nevertheless goes into the weekend on 132, 12 under par, with England’s David Lynn and Nick Faldo his nearest pursuers on 134 and 135 respectively after rounds of 66 and 70.

Last season Björn came close to re-entering the winners’ circle in 2003 but was thwarted twice in play-offs and by American Ben Curtis in a dramatic conclusion to the Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s.

Incidentally Curtis, who had moved nicely into contention in Bangkok, met a similar fate to Björn at Sandwich when he took a triple bogey at the 17th and dropped another shot at the last for a 73 and three under par total of 141.

Despite a pair of sixes on his card – “stupid bogeys” he called them – Björn enjoyed a relatively trouble-free day in the heat and humidity and commented: “I said yesterday that when you haven’t played for a while you are going to hit a couple of loose shots and today they cost me dearly on two par fives.

“However, hitting a lot of good golf shots is really the key and I’m happy on that score. I am happy with my performance in general over the first two days. I thought I kept focused and maintained a good balance in my golf game. You can’t ask for more, 64-68 on a tricky course where you certainly have to use your head all the time. I am in a good position.”

Lynn, 30, moved into contention with a flawless 66, four of his six birdies coming in an inward half of 32. The Englishman has twice finished second in his seven-year career on The European Tour, but has yet to perfect the art of winning. Last year he had three top four finishes and conceded wistfully: “Hopefully, one day, I can get there.

"A couple of years ago I was trying to win all the time and if I didn’t have a chance I basically wasn’t interested. This year, coming out on Tour, I am playing my own game and trying as hard as I can all the time.”

Faldo, seeking his first title on The European Tour International Schedule for a decade, found the cloying humidity a formidable opponent as he added a round of 70 to his outstanding opening effort of 65. At nine under, he is only three off the pace and right in the title hunt.

“I was flagging on the back nine in that heat and humidity. It’s very humid out there and especially playing under the cosh. We are drenched through. It hit me out there and I was getting tired. Still, it’s a good position and it will be nice to get the feet up and recharge and come out ready for tomorrow.”

Defending champion, Ernie Els of South Africa, followed his initial 70 with a controlled 67 for seven under par and, like playing partner Faldo, appeared to have stepped out of a shower after his round.

Wrapped in a towel to dry off afterwards, Els reflected on a contrasting finish to the round to that which Curtis experienced. While the American played the last two in four over, Els drained successive birdie putts for a round of 67.

“I played a lot better today” he said. “I hit 13 fairways compared to five yesterday and that’s better. I’m getting close. My swing is feeling a lot better and I felt quite comfortable on the greens. It was a good day.”

Els is one of nine players tied for seventh while the first three on the leaderboard are followed by the trio of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, David Smail of New Zealand and Thailand-based Scotsman, Simon Yates, all on eight under par.

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