The 2011 Masters winner was bogey-free at the $1 million Asian Tour event as he signalled his intent to go one better after finishing runner-up at Amata Spring Country Club last year.
Highly rated Thai youngster Thitiphun Chuayprakong, who finished third at the Venetian Macau Open in October, eclipsed many of the world’s top players with a superb 66 to outscore reigning Masters Tournament winner Bubba Watson (68), Europe’s Ryder Cup star Sergio Garcia (69) and title holder Lee Westwood (70).
The 20-year-old Thai trails South African Schwartzel by one in the penultimate event of the 2012 Asian Tour season.
Asian Tour Qualifying School graduate Javi Colomo of Spain continued his recent good run by making a crucial eight-foot par save on the last for a share of third place with Sweden’s Daniel Chopra on matching 67s.
Schwartzel, who has finished fifth, third and second in his last three events, continued to show form that earned him his first Major win last year after recovering from a chest injury which affected much of his game this season.
“I’m just playing injury free and that’s allowing me to swing the club better. When you are playing with injury, you always try to protect that injury and the consequence is a bad swing. In the last month and a half I’ve been able to get my swing back to where I want it to be. My consistency is coming back and that’s the key for me,” said Schwartzel, who sank six birdies.
The world number 27 is aiming to nail his first victory since his Masters triumph but knows he must continue to overcome the steamy and humid conditions at Amata Spring. “It definitely affects you. It is as hot as I’ve gotten on a golf course for a long time. I suppose all you can do is take a lot of liquid. There’s no escaping the heat. You just got to grind it out.
“It is nice to put yourself in position. You won’t win a golf tournament in the first round but you sure can lose it. I’ve got no expectations. I feel that if I continue to play like how I did then I can find the result which I’m looking for. It is still early days to predict anything right now,” he added.
Having secured his Asian Tour card for 2013, Thitiphun, currently 44th on the Order of Merit, played without fear as he charged up the leaderboard with six birdies to mix with the top stars.
“I’ve got no pressure at all. I started working with a mental coach and it’s been helpful. He has told me to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself. I certainly didn’t expect to shoot a six under round as my goal was four or five under,” said Thitiphun.
Big-hitting Watson drew the crowds out in his morning round but endured a mixed day with six birdies, one eagle and four bogeys to end the day three back from Schwartzel,
“It didn’t feel that good. It was a solid round but I made a few mistakes. Hit a cart path and bounced into the woods and had to take an unplayable and had a three putt on 17. Just little things like that. I finished with a birdie on the last so all in all, I guess it’s not too bad,” said Watson.
Scores after round 1 of the Thailand Golf Championship:
65 - Charl SCHWARTZEL (RSA).
66 - Thitiphun CHUAYPRAKONG (THA).
67 - Javi COLOMO (ESP), Daniel CHOPRA (SWE).
68 - MO Joong-kyung (KOR), PARK Hyun-bin (KOR), Bubba WATSON (USA), Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA), Masanori KOBAYASHI (JPN).
69 - Wade ORMSBY (AUS), Annop TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA), Juvic PAGUNSAN (PHI), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA), Sergio GARCIA (ESP), Thongchai JAIDEE (THA), Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Luke LIST (USA), Darren BECK (AUS), Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND).
70 - Yoshinobu TSUKADA (JPN), LEE Seong-ho (KOR), Berry HENSON (USA), Unho PARK (AUS), Ryo ISHIKAWA (JPN), LAM Chih Bing (SIN), Derek ERNST (USA), Daisuke MARUYAMA (JPN), Darren CLARKE (NIR), Lee WESTWOOD (ENG), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Anirban LAHIRI (IND), Scott HEND (AUS), Jason KNUTZON (USA), Kwanchai TANNIN (THA), Ajeetesh SANDHU (IND).
71 - Kalle SAMOOJA (FIN), Ron HARVEY JR (CAN), RYU Hyun-woo (KOR), Mars PUCAY (PHI), Adam BLYTH (AUS), SUNG Mao-chang (TPE), Prayad MARKSAENG (THA), Guido VAN DER VALK (NED), Hunter MAHAN (USA), Scott BARR (AUS), Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA), Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND), Joonas GRANBERG (FIN).