The overnight leader looked set to take the tournament away after four birdies on his front nine but a few stumbles coming home – and some scintillating shot-making from the likes of Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia and Matthew Fitzpatrick – left it all to play for at the Asian Tour’s showcase event.
World number four Bubba Watson played his way into the weekend thanks mainly to a wonderful chip-in recovery for birdie from the edge of the 17th green after his tee shot had looked certain to find a watery grave.
The American knows he needs to play very well indeed after he signed for a two-under 70 that left him at three-under – and 10 shots back.
“The chip in was special,” said Watson, winner last week in the Bahamas. “I thought I hit a good shot off the tee but if it goes in the water, I might miss the cut. It stayed up and I chipped in so there were two good points made there.
“To win is doable with two low scores. But I’ve got to play really good and I’ve got to hope they don’t make too many more birdies.”
Donaldson meanwhile left the course with a sentiment that would have been shared by all those who battled the sweltering conditions.
“It can be tough out there,” said the Welshman, who needs a win here in Thailand to force his way into the world’s top-50 and thereby assure himself of a place in the 2016 calendar’s top events.
“It’s important to get off to a good start,” continued Donaldson, who clinched the winning point for Europe at the 2014 Ryder Cup. “You need to keep the momentum going and I managed to do that today. It was a case of trying to stay hydrated and not sweat too much on the ball.
“I dropped a couple of shots out there today but I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Overall, I’ve been playing nicely.”
Donaldson, who held an overnight three-shot advantage, now leads by two strokes from the surging Kaymer after the German double major winner returned the day’s best with a seven-under-par 65 to sit at 11-under through two rounds.
Lurking with intent two further shots behind at nine-under are world number 12 Garcia, rising English star Fitzpatrick and Thailand’s Chinnarat Phadungsil.
The 40-year-old Donaldson dropped his first stroke of the tournament with a bogey on the third – his 12th – and there were two more to come before he signed off for a four-under 68.
Kaymer was meanwhile making good on his vow to learn from his joint second-placing at the Thailand Golf Championship last year, behind winner Lee Westwood.
There was his first bogey for the week – on the 14th– but eight birdies for the day, including five on the way in to the clubhouse, saw Kaymer strike while his irons were hot.
“It was like a sauna out there. It was really warm but the good thing is that the ball actually goes a bit further,” said the German, joining in the day’s theme. “I just hit good iron shots towards the greens and gave myself a lot of good chances for birdies. I didn’t miss many putts.
“Overall, it was even better than yesterday. I just need to stay where I am heading into the weekend. I am hitting a lot of fairways and I think it’s really important.”
Garcia and Fitzpatrick were grouped together – and were a contrast in styles as the Spaniard blazed his way to a three-under
69 while the Englishman took a more measured but equally effective approach on the way to his five-under 67.
“I thought I played pretty decent. I just left a couple of shots here and there. I felt like I was really struggling with the heat on the back nine,” said the 35-year-old Garcia, who claimed the title back in 2013.
“I gave myself some decent chances on a few holes and although I didn’t managed to make any of them, I think I finished alright.”
The 21-year-old Fitzpatrick said he had come to Thailand looking to lean on the accuracy that has been a hallmark of a breakout season highlighted by victory at the British Masters.
“If you miss the fairways here the rough is quite thick so at the moment the plan has been to not miss any fairways and give myself a chance into the greens – and it’s been working,” he said.
Leading the way for the Thailand Golf Championship’s Asian contingent has been the 27-year-old Chinnarat who followed up his opening day 66 with a solid 69.
“I have never played this tournament before and I want to be one of the four players to get a berth at The Open at Royal Troon,” he said in reference to the Thailand Golf Championship’s status as part of The Open Qualifying Series. “I will try my best but with no pressure. I think I will have a chance if my performance is the same as yesterday and today.”
Reigning champion Westwood sits at five-under and left the course wondering what might have been.
“I just don’t want to waste as many putts as I have been wasting,” he said.
“I need to stay patient and not drop too many stupid shots out there. You just got to make sensible putts out there as the pin positions are tough.”
About the Thailand Golf Championship
Organized by Gulf Sports Management and IMG, and sanctioned by the Asian Tour, the fifth edition of the Thailand Golf Championship will be staged at the award-winning Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi between 10-13 December. The Championship, the Asian Tour’s season-ending event, has a total prize purse of US$1 million, and has been part of the Open Qualifying Series since 2014. The Thailand Golf Championship will be broadcast globally by Asian Tour Media and in Thailand by TrueVisions.
Former winners of the Championship are: Lee Westwood (2011), Charl Schwartzel (2012), Sergio Garcia (2013) and Lee Westwood (2014).