Darren Clarke might be 13 shots behind leader Chrl Schwartzel but he’s still on course for his best strokeplay finish since he won The Open more than 16 months ago.
The Ulsterman fired a three under 69 in the third round of the Thailand Golf Championship to move up to joint 18th on five under, nearly a year after finishing 20th in the limited field Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa.
The 2011 Open champion has had a miserable time since he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal St George’s, slipping 109 places in the world rankings from 30th to 139th this week.
The Dungannon man’s three under effort was his best ball-striking effort of the week as he hit 15 greens. But ended up taking 32 putts as he mixed five birdies with two bogeys at Amata Spring Country Club.
Stablemate Schwartzel is seeking his first win since he lifted the Masters last year. A rib injury held him back this season but he’s still been close to the winner’s circle on numerous occasions since taking advantage of Rory McIlroy’s meltdown to don the green jacket.
A four under 68 left him five clear of Sweden’s Daniel Chopra (69) on 18 under with Thailand’s Thitiphun Chuayprakong (71) six behind.
“It’s a game of patience and I just have to go out there to play,” Schwartzel told AsianTour.com. “If it’s my time, it’s my time.
“Today felt good. The majority of it was solid. I hit a few bad ones but it was because I was sweating so much.
“I gave myself a lot of chances especially coming in. 15, 16, 17, 18… I gave myself chances, could have easily been four birdies. Hit good shots, good putts but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Sergio Garcia is eight shots behind in fourth after a 68 but holds out little hope of stopping Schwartzel from claiming a wire-to-wire victory.
“He played great last year and doing great again,” Garcia said. “He obviously likes the course.
Defending champion Lee Westwood (70) and Masters champion Bubba Watson (71) are tied seventh place with Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Thaworn Wiratchant (70) on seven under.