CHONBURI, Thailand -- Seeking his first victory since winning the 2011 Masters, Charl Schwartzel shot a 7-under 65 Thursday to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Thailand Golf Championship on the Asian Tour.
The South African made seven birdies in a bogey-free round at the Amata Spring Country Club, four coming in the opening seven holes, to hold a one-shot advantage over Thitiphun Chuayprakong.
"I'm very happy with the way my game has started getting back," Schwartzel said. "Last month and a half, I've been able to start working on my swing again and getting my swing back to what it was a year or so ago. My consistency is coming back, and that to me is key."
World No. 3 Bubba Watson (68) had an eagle and six birdies to sit three shots off the lead, while defending champion Lee Westwood (70) was in 21st place.
"It was a solid round but I made a few mistakes," said Watson, this year's Masters winner. "Hit a cart patch and bounced into the woods and had to take an unplayable (lie), and had a three-putt on the 17."
Daniel Chopra of Sweden shot a 67 to share third with Javi Colomo of Spain.
Schwartzel opened his round with two straight birdies, picked up two more shots at Nos. 6 and 7 and then holed birdie putts on three of the last six holes on the 7,453-yard course.
"I found many fairways and, to me, that's the key on this golf course because the rough is so high," Schwartzel said. "It's nice to put yourself in position. You're not going to win the golf tournament after Round 1, but you sure can lose it."
The 20-year-old Thitiphun, who only last week secured his Asian Tour card at a tournament in Khon Kaen, played without pressure to move into second place.
"My drives were traveling well. The condition was perfect as the green was soft and the fairways were great," he said.
Sergio Garcia (69) shared 10th place with Thaworn Wiratchant, the current No. 1 on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit.
Schwartzel, looking to go one better after finishing as runner-up 12 months ago, didn’t drop a shot as he made his way to the top of the leaderboard. Schwartzel, who has been dogged by injury problems this season, insisted that a return to full fitness had been the key to his improving form in recent weeks.
"I'm just playing injury-free … that's allowing me to swing the club much better," he said. "My consistency is coming back and that's the key for me. When you are playing with injury, you always try to protect the injury and the consequence is a bad swing."
Garcia made a solid start with his 69, but looked on course to go much lower, having reached 5 under midway through the back nine. But he fell away rather with some wayward putting.
"Hopefully I can play a little bit better tomorrow and shoot a good score and get myself in a good position for the weekend," Garcia said.
Westwood finds himself one shot behind the Spaniard and five off the pace after another day of frustration on the greens.
The Englishman opened with a 60 last year as he turned the event into something of a victory parade, but he cut an exasperated figure as he departed the final green on Thursday, having been unable to capitalize on numerous birdie chances.