Garcia stakes his claim

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Spaniard Sergio Garcia produced another brilliant seven-under-par 65 to surge into a four-shot lead over India’s Anirban Lahiri and world number three Henrik Stenson in the star-laden Thailand Golf Championship on Saturday.

The Ryder Cup hero charged home on the back nine with five birdies, including two at 17 and 18 at the magnificent Amata Spring Country Club for a three-day total of 18-under-par 198 in the US$1 million Asian Tour event.

Stenson, the first man to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup this season, also fired a fine 65 to give himself a chance of a fourth win of the year while Lahiri fought his way into the final group on Sunday with a 67.

Co-overnight leader Justin Rose of England bogeyed his last hole for a 70 as he slipped five shots off the pace while Panuphol Pittayarat emerged as the leading Thai player following a 67 for a share of sixth place on 206.

After charging into contention with a second round 65 which included a hole-in-one on Friday, the 33-year-old Garcia, ranked 19th in the world, put himself in prime position to land his first title of 2013 following another sublime display of golf.

“It was great obviously to be able to go out there and shoot 65 again,” said Garcia. “I played nicely and felt pretty comfortable. I was able to hit some really nice shots and then was able to roll two or three really good putts in and it was nice to be able to finish birdie, birdie on this difficult finishing stretch.”

The swashbuckling Spaniard does not intend to take his foot off the pedal as he chases a 21st career Tour victory. “Not only Henrik … there’re probably five or six guys who can shoot a really good number. It’s going to be exciting tomorrow. I’ll just try to do the same things I’ve been doing and stay focused, stay patient and hopefully I’ll be able to play well enough to win,” said Garcia, whose girlfriend Katharina Boehm is caddying for him.

“I want to try to be as aggressive as possible. I want to still try to make as many birdies as I can and if I manage to do that, then I’m going to put it quite difficult to the rest. I think if I start getting a little defensive, then I can give them a good opportunity of catching me.”

Lahiri, who is fifth on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, sank six birdies against a lone bogey to stay within touching distance of the leader. “I didn’t hit the ball very good but I played really sharp golf and that’s good to see. I’m happy that I’m able to focus and get up and down when I miss it, and make some putts. So, yeah, really happy,” said the 26-year-old, who has three wins in Asia.

The Indian rising star will stick to his routine and game plan in his hope of eclipsing the stars in the final round. A total of eight players from the world’s top-50 are in the field at the Thailand Golf Championship which is offering 38 world ranking points to the winner.

“I’m just going out there and play and I’m happy that I’m in a zone where I can play and not think about shots,” said Lahiri. “Sergio is running away with it, so I’m glad I’m still within touching distance. I can’t really go into tomorrow expecting anything. I just want to play solid.”

Stenson got out of the blocks with three straight birdies and rattled in four more for a bogey-free card. But he also made some important par saves, including one on 18 after finding the thick rough.

“That was a good day,” said the 37-year-old Swede. “It was definitely the best I played this week. Made some good birdies and some really good saves to keep the momentum going. Those were crucial.

“Even though I’m tired and worn out, as soon as you see your name on the leaderboard, all of a sudden that tiredness goes away and you’re looking forward to be there and hopefully have a chance to win. I know Sergio is desperate to get his hands on a trophy but I’ll try to challenge him,” added Stenson.

Rose, the reigning U.S. Open champion and world number four, was disappointed to fall off the pace, with a lone bogey on 18 leaving him five back of Garcia. “It’s a frustrating sort of way to finish the round. I played better than any other day or as good as any other day. Sergio got ahead and a couple good birdies for him to finish. But I felt like I had the opportunity to put a good round together and to not do it is frustrating,” said Rose.

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