Pagunsan and Hend lead, as Chapchai keeps his hopes alive
On-fire Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines charged into the joint halfway lead with Australian Scott Hend at the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia on Friday.
The sweet-swinging Pagunsan, whose confidence skyrocketed after claiming a breakthrough victory in Indonesia in October, fired a near flawless seven-under-par 65 while Hend enjoyed a welcome return to form with a 67.
The duo lead the US$750,000 Asian Tour finale with a two-day total of nine-under-par 135, with New Zealander Mark Brown and overnight leader Scott Strange of Australia lying in equal third place a stroke back after a 66 and 71 respectively.
Thailand 's Chapchai Nirat, who needs to win the Volvo Masters of Asia to have a chance of lifting the prestigious UBS Order of Merit crown ahead of leader Liang Wen-chong of China , gave himself a chance with a 69 and is five off the lead going into the weekend.
Liang, the long-time Merit leader, shot a 71 for a share of 27 th place on 143.
Pagunsan wielded a hot putter at Thai Country Club, needing only 22 putts en route to eight birdies. His lone blemish came at the closing 18 th hole when he missed the green. "I hit it really good today and drove it well. I think the key was also my putting which was really good," said Pagunsan, last year's Rookie of the Year.
"After winning in the Pertamina Indonesia President Invitation, my confidence is really high. It was a big help in my career. I trust myself and I will try to play well again for the next two days here."
A 15-foot birdie conversion on the opening hole set the 29-year-old Filipino on his way and he turned in 32 with three more birdies. He also took advantage of all the par fives which he birdied.
"I made quite a few putts from outside six feet. I feel I can win when I play in any tournament now. I'll try my best to win on Sunday," said Pagunsan.
Hend, fourth on the UBS Order of Merit, was delighted to be in the hunt after enduring a frustrating last few months. The big-hitting Australian started his rookie season in Asia on a strong note, posting three top-three finishes before suffering a dip in form.
Like Pagunsan, he also turned in 32 but stumbled on the 15 th by sending a shot into a watery grave but he bounced back with two closing birdies to tie for the lead. "It was a good round of golf and it could have been better. I just got unlucky on the 15 th hole. I just missed the fairway right and I was in a three by three inch divot. I only had sixty metres to get over the water but I could not get it over. I hit a sand iron as hard as I possibly could and the ball came out like a forehand lob, top spinner.
"I was pretty angry. I really wanted to make two birdies coming in as I thought I played too good only to shoot three under. It is all good. It has been a while since I won so I want to win. I have something to prove to myself this week – hopefully I can do that and next year come out and have a go at the Order of Merit," said Hend, who chipped in for birdie on the ninth.
Chapchai kept up the pressure on Liang in the thrilling two-horse Merit race with a fighting display. The burly Thai drew three strokes clear of the Chinese number one who produced some uncharacteristically scrappy play en route to a 71.
The Thai, a two-time winner this season, needs a triumph and Liang to finish out of the top three to lift the UBS Order of Merit title. Chapchai had three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine to reach the turn in one over but he stormed home in 32 thanks to four birdies, including three-in-a-row from the 14th.
"I am very happy but still tired. I putted better today than yesterday but did not drive the ball or hit my irons as well," said the 24 year old, who is on 140. "It was not very consistent – birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey (he had six birdies and three bogeys)."
Chapchai reckons that a 15-under-par total will be good enough to win the Volvo Masters of Asia and has promised to thrill the galleries over the weekend with his shoot-at-the-pins style. "I think that will be good enough to win. My style is to be very aggressive and go all out for birdies. I will continue that approach tomorrow and on Sunday," said Chapchai, who is birdie leader on the Asian Tour with 292 'birds' in 81 rounds before this week.
Liang admitted that his game had been affected by the lurking presence of Chapchai during the first round but he was more settled on Friday. "I was a bit worried playing with Chapchai yesterday. I kept thinking that he would play well. I was thinking too much. I tried to block that out today which I did. I was hoping to shoot a better score to keep my chances alive in the tournament," said the 29-year-old from Zhongshan.
"Anything can still happen (in the Merit race) - I'll keep trying. I need to practice my short game to make it better. I putted a bit better but still missed one two-foot putt."
Liang, who has led the race for the prestigious Order of Merit crown since May, reached the turn in three under but stumbled to a 38 coming home with bogeys on the 13th and 18th holes.
Defending champion Thongchai Jaidee fired a 69 for a share of 13 th place on 139, four off the pace. "There are two more rounds to go and I'll keep trying," said the two-time Asian number one.
Leading second round scores (click here for full leaderboard):
135 - Juvic Pagunsan (PHI) 70-65, Scott Hend (AUS) 68-67
136 - Mark Brown (NZL) 70-66, Scott Strange (AUS) 65-71
137 - Prom Meesawat (THA) 70-67
138 - Gavin Flint (AUS) 70-68, Chris Rodgers (ENG) 70-68, Gerald Rosales (PHI) 70-68, Angelo Que (PHI) 70-68, Simon Yates (SCO) 69-69, Lee Sung (KOR) 68-70, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 67-71
139 - Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 70-69, Simon Griffiths (ENG) 68-71
140 - Taichiro Kiyota (JPN) 72-68, Chapchai Nirat (THA) 71-69, Chinarat Phadungsil (THA) 70-70
141 - Adam Blyth (AUS) 72-69, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 71-70, Lu Wei-chih (TPE) 71-70, Thammanoon Srirot (THA) 69-72
142 - Lin Wen-Tang (TPE) 72-70, Adam Groom (AUS) 72-70, Shiv Kapur (IND) 70-72, S.S.P. Chowrasia (IND) 69-73, Tony Lascuna (PHI) 69-73
December 7, 2007