Richard Karlberg of Sweden tightened his grip in the SAIL Open after retaining his lead with a second round three-under-par 69 on Wednesday.
The Asian Tour rookie produced an impressive back nine performance, highlighted by four birdies, for a two-day total of 10-under-par 134 at the Delhi Golf Club.
Veteran Gaurav Ghei of India rolled back the years when he signed off with a 67 to sit in second place on 135 while compatriot Shamim Khan and Thai stalwart Chinnarat Phadungsil are a stroke back on 136 in the US $300,000 Asian Tour event.
Japanese Kodai Ichihara was the talk of the day as he recovered from his disastrous 76 with a sizzling 64, sprinkling his card with nine brilliant birdies against one bogey to move up to tied 10th place.
Starting from the back nine, Karlberg endured a slow start where he turned in 37. He bounced back brilliantly after a birdie four on the first hole where he reached the green in two.
"It was a good recovery on the back nine and my game plan is to get to 18-under, I think that would be the winning score," said the 23-year-old, winner of the Swedish domestic tour Order of Merit in 2007.
Karlberg, playing in only his second Asian Tour tournament, was delighted to remain in contention for his first win in the region but he is not taking his lead lightly. "There wasn't pressure on me despite coming in as leader. I just need to keep my shots straight like how I did in these past two days and see how it goes," added the Swede.
Ghei, 41, got off to a bright start when he had an easy tap in for an eagle three on the first hole after a pin point approach shot with his rescue club. He however rued missed chances where he made par from the second hole onwards but was delighted to close with three birdies over his last four holes.
"It was a strange round because I started off hitting it really well but couldn't covert my chances. On the back nine I was hitting it average but holed a few putts!" said Gaurav, holder of three Asian Tour victories but not since 2007.
Ghei recalled his first Asian Tour victory on the same venue way back in 1995 and was pleased to be in contention in front of his adoring fans.
"I'm a shot back so I'm obviously playing alright. I've won on this golf course before and had a couple of good finishes. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed and go out and have some fun," added the Indian.
Chinnarat, who holds the distinction of being the youngest winner on the Asian Tour, was tied for the lead after a birdie on the 11th hole but he failed to keep the momentum when he dropped two shots on the 13th and 16th holes.
He was unlucky to add a birdie on the last hole when his four foot putt was derailed by his spike mark.
"When I was tied for the lead, I told myself to remain calm and just play my game. I was very unlucky on the last hole but I that's fine. I'm not too far from the leader. I have to try my best for the next two rounds," said the 21-year-old, who is also a three-time winner on the Asian Tour
Ichihara, aiming for a maiden win on the Asian Tour, produced a remarkable performance where he shot seven birdies on the trot starting from the 15th hole.
"I had a disappointing round yesterday (Tuesday) especially on the back nine where most of my shots flew into the bushes. But today, my irons and putting helped and I'm happy to be able to recover. My confidence is really high especially after my round. Maybe I can shoot the same score again!" said Ichihara, who finished 13th on the Order of Merit last season.
Defending champion Chapchai Nirat shot a 71 to lie in tied 33rd position, nine shots behind the leader.
The cut was set at one-over-par 145 with a total of 69 players making it through to the final two rounds.
Leading second round scores
134 - Richard KARLBERG (SWE) 65-69
135 - Gaurav GHEI (IND) 68-67
136 - Shamim KHAN (IND) 67-69, Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA) 66-70
138 - Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND) 70-68
139 - S.S.P. CHOWRASIA (IND) 66-73, Shiv KAPUR (IND) 67-72
140 - Artemio MURAKAMI (PHI) 69-71, Kodai ICHIHARA (JPN) 76-64, Hirotaro NAITO (JPN) 70-70, Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) 68-72, Himmat RAI (IND) 69-71,
Pol KEMMARAT (THA) 69-71, Rahil GANGJEE (IND) 69-71, PAPPAN (IND) 71-69