Chawalit Plaphol gave himself the ideal platform to go on to become the third Thai golfer – after Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant - to win a co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Asian Tour when he moved into a three shot lead at the halfway stage of the Volvo China Open at the Shenzhen Golf Club. Jaidee won the 2004 Carlsberg Malaysian Open while Wiratchant triumphed in the 2005 Enjoy Jakarta Standard Chartered Indonesia Open, and Plaphol was equally as convincing as his two compatriots in spreadeagling the field in the second event of the 2006 European Tour season.
The 31 year old added a second round 67 to his opening course record 65 for a 12 under par total of 132 and a three shot lead over Frenchman François Delamontagne and England’s Oliver Wilson, who carded 70 and 67 respectively for their totals of nine under par 135.
But the day belonged to Plaphol, lauded before the tournament started by Ryder Cup star Paul Casey as one of the Asian players to look out for. And how the Englishman’s words had a prophetic ring to them as the Thai golfer carded six birdies in total to make up for his solitary bogey of the day which came at the sixth where he missed the green with his approach shot.
“I drove the ball very well today and hit my irons even better than yesterday,” he said. “I missed only one green and three fairways all day. Over the weekend I hope to hit as many fairways as possible.
“If I have the chance to attack the golf course then I will go for it, otherwise I will play it safe where necessary. I won an Asian Tour event in 1998 and in Japan last year, but I would love to win a European Tour event – I just have to keep playing well and hope that happens.”
Frenchman Delamontagne shared the first round lead with Plaphol but slipped back a little with his second round 70 after he admitted suffering a little from tiredness on the demanding Shenzhen course, a factor which manifested itself in nine straight pars on the back nine of his round.
Although he cited normal reasons such as the thirty degree heat and the heavy grass as possible reasons for his lethargy, the 26 year old who finished 68th on the Order of Merit last season, came up with another possible explanation which left his audience scratching their heads.
“I think I possibly had too much sleep last night,” he said. “I was really tired but I had about 11 hours in total which I think was too much and made it difficult for me to shake myself awake. I think I will have to cut down a little tonight and get to the course earlier tomorrow for some practice as I really have to try and sort out my driving.”
Alongside Delamontagne, Englishman Wilson was delighted with his second round 67 which moved him in sight of his maiden title, which would be the perfect follow-up to a solid rookie year in 2005 where he threatened the lead on a number of occasions but did not follow through onto the winner’s rostrum.
Wilson made a flying start with four birdies in his first six holes, a run only spoilt by a bogey on the third where he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker. Further birdies followed on the 11th and 12th and after three putting the 15th for a bogey, Wilson holed from six feet on the 17th for his seventh birdie of the day.
“A win would be great and then have a few weeks off before starting again in Dubai in January,” he said. “I learned a lot last year. I was in contention five or six times and led three times and, although it didn't go how I wanted it to, I learned a lot.
“If I can get into the same position and finish strongly I feel like I am ready to take that next step forward. I'm not a rookie any more so it's time to move on. In New Zealand (the Holden New Zealand Open) I led going into the final round and played okay but just got a little bit edgy.
“In Ireland (the Nissan Irish Open) I could not putt on the last day. The first few days you're not really thinking about the negative but on the last day everything is going through your mind.
“I'm sure I'll think about it a bit tonight but it's only the second round and there is a long way to go. My goal again will be to be in contention walking off the 18th and if I can do that and be in the hunt on Sunday that will be great.”
Thai-based Scot Simon Yates, an Asian Tour regular for ten years, moved fourth on eight under par 136 after his second consecutive 68 while The European Tour challenge was maintained in the upper echelons of the leaderboard by rookie English professional Ross Fisher, who stood fifth on seven under par 137.
Fisher finished 18th on the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2005, enough to guarantee him entry into a number of tournaments this season, but opted to attend the Qualifying School at San Roque anyway and finished 14th to improve his overall tournament ranking.
“I had nothing to lose, I already had a card of some sort, so I felt so relaxed and the good golf flowed,” Fisher said after adding a 68 to his opening 69. “I had been the year before so knew what to expect and I was going there with absolutely no pressure on me. That is kind of the approach I have brought this week too, I just want to go out and enjoy it.”
At the end of play, the cut fell at level par 144, leaving 67 players to contest the weekend’s action, the change reflecting the first tournament of 2006 to operate the new 65 and ties cut policy on The European Tour.