Friday, 19 March 2010

Reuters - Thailand's Chapchai Nirat continued his astonishing assault on the Yalong Bay Golf Club, Hainen Island, China, by following up his course record 61 on Thursday with a second round 66 for a 17 under par total of 127 for the tournament and an impressive six shot lead to take into the weekend in the TCL Classic.

The 23 year old, who used his 11 under par round  to lead by three shots overnight, finally made a bogey on his 22nd hole of The European Tour and Asian Tour co-sanctioned event but already had two birdies in the bag. Chapchai completed his round without any further mistakes and picked up three more birdies and an eagle along the way to stay well clear of David Bransdon, Adam Blyth and Simon Nash of Australia, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Argentina's Raphael Echenique, on 11 under par.

On any other day, that total might have been good enough to challenge for the lead but Nirat was already streaking clear of the field, shooting the lowest 36 hole total of the 2007 season by three strokes and establishing the biggest halfway lead of the campaign.

Until now, the largest lead at the halfway stage was two shots. Nirat tripled that to a whopping six shot advantage over two outstanding days' golf and the powerful Thai said: "My plan was just to keep it on the fairway, hit the green, putt and make as few mistakes as possible."

Nirat, in fact, came close to emulating Ernie Els of South Africa, who led the Heineken Classic by seven strokes in 2004 - the last of several players to claim the existing European Tour record margin at halfway.

Nirat's remarkable performance had the field gasping for breath and the situation was best summed up by England's Ninck Dougherty, who shot a 66 to his opening 69 to move into contention on nine unde par.

"All we can hope is that he doesn't go bananas at the weekend, if that happens then it's all over for the rest of us," said Dougherty, who finished on the same mark as compatriots James Heath (63) and Miles Tunnicliff (65).

Nirat said: "I'm happy with my golf right now. I feel comfortable but I still feel pressure because I know that on a course like this, it is possible for someone to catch me. I still need to shoot low for the next two weeks and make as few mistakes as possible."

Gonnet compiled a six under par 66 to attach to his opening 67 and is comfortable with his position in the chasing pack. He said: "It's my first season on The European Tour and only my fourth event so I have to be pleased. I had a fantastic finish with three birdies and chipping in from 20 feet at the last was great. I hope I can begin my third round the same way!"

Echenique followed his first round 64 with a 69 to join the hapopy throng on 11 under and admitted: "I knew it was going to be tougher after shooting a 64 but I am happy with my total and I will try to keep my focus on Saturday and Sunday. There are a lot of holes to be played and a lot of players in contention so I just have to be patient."

Spain's Carl Suneson, on ten under par along with compatriot Carlos Rodiles and a group of three other players, does not think that Chapchai can sustain his level of play over the weekend. Wishful thinking, perhaps! 

"He's obviously playing tremendous golf, but I played here last year when David Howell was 17 under after two rounds and he didn't win," he said. "This game has a habit of bringing you back to your knees pretty quickly."

Rodiles, who won The European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage at San Roque last November, also tried to seek out some positives messages in Nirat's devastating performance. He commented: "He had a fantastic round on Thursday and he's now followed up with a solid second round.  But he's not going to shoot 34 under, that's for sure, so the next day will be tough."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1NIRAT, ChapchaiTHA18-22
3MARKSAENG, PrayadTHA18-17
T4HEATH, JamesENG18-16
T4NASH, SimonAUS18-16
T6LIANG, Wen-chongCHN18-15
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