Rose and Garcia out in front

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Spain’s Sergio Garcia fired a magical hole-in-one en route to a seven-under-par 65 to share the halfway lead with world number four Justin Rose of England at the star-studded Thailand Golf Championship on Friday.

The 33-year-old Garcia, seeking his first win of 2013, brilliantly aced the par three 198-yard eighth hole with a six iron at the Amata Spring Country Club for a two-day total of 11-under-par 133, which was matched by Rose, the reigning U.S. Open champion.

Rose fired an eagle, three birdies and one bogey for a 68 to tie his Ryder Cup teammate for the lead in the US$1 million full-field Asian Tour tournament, which is featuring eight players from the world’s top-50 and offering 38 world ranking points to the winner.

India’s Anirban Lahiri produced the day’s best of 64, sprinkling his card with an eagle and six birdies to trail in tied third place on 135 alongside overnight leader Alex Cejka of Germany (71) and Frenchman Alexander Levy (65).

Birthday boy Rickie Fowler, who turned 25 today, returned a 66 to lie three shots back while world number three Henrik Stenson of Sweden and current Asian Tour number one Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand are amongst those bunched on 137. Title holder Charl Schwartzel of South Africa struggled to a 73 and is eight adrift.

The swashbuckling Garcia, fourth at the Thailand Golf Championship last season, did not see his ball go into the hole for his career third hole-in-one in tournament play due to the pin location. But the roars from the crowd did enough to tell him he found the bottom of the cup with his tee shot.

“Yeah, wonderful day for sure,” said the beaming Spaniard. “I saw the ball hit right of the green and it started rolling. I thought it’s probably going to end up close …. We were saying ‘go in, go in’ and all of a sudden everybody goes ‘wow’ as I can’t really see the hole from the tee box. It was quite nice to see it happen.”

With five other birdies on his bogey-free card, Garcia, who has 10 top-10s around the world this year, put himself in prime position to win the Thailand Golf Championship.

“I feel like I played well both days. I probably didn’t make as many putts. Driving the ball very nicely and hitting a lot of greens and my short game has been pretty good, so overall I’m very happy with it,” added Garcia, whose girlfriend Katharina Boehm is caddying for him.

After swapping a birdie and a bogey on two and three, Rose made two huge par saves from about six feet at the next two holes which he said kept him in the ball game. He then birdied nine, eagled 11 from six feet after hitting what he termed as a “perfect” five iron and rolled in another birdie on 12. He could have taken the outright lead on 18 but misread a birdie chance from about eight feet.

“It was a funny round, I got off to a bit of a slow start and it all started to happen for me in the middle of the round,” said Rose. “I just want to keep having fun. I want to end the season in a good way, even if I win or don’t win.

“The eagle on 11, I had a five iron that I hit in there which was the best shot I’ve hit in a month. It had the right flight, just felt perfect. The swing was good, the divot was good and everything about it was the way it should feel. A lot of us players hit good shots but that felt perfect. And to make that six foot putt was nice to capitalize on that shot.”

The 26-year-old Lahiri, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, started his round from the 10th tee in flying fashion when he holed out a greenside bunker shot for an eagle on 11 before hitting six more birdies. He also credited his putter, needing only 25 putts on the Amata Spring tricky greens, for his rise up the leaderboard.

“It was a great day. Holed my bunker shot on 11 and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the day,” said the 26-year-old. “I haven’t really had a round or a series of rounds where I’ve really putted brilliantly, and I think today was one of those rounds where I really felt like I could hole anything and everything.”

Fowler used four birdies in a row on his inward nine of 31 to move into title contention in his debut at the event.

“I finally got a few things going, felt a little better and hit some better putts. I just stayed patient and made the turn and started to kind of rattle off some birdies,” said the colourful American, who was presented a birthday cake by the organisers after his round.

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