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Thai star Kiradech leads the way at Pattaya

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Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat fired a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 to seize the opening round lead by one shot despite struggling with a sore back at the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation on Thursday.

Kiradech, highest-ranked Thai in 60th place on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), highlighted his flawless round with seven birdies to set a course record at the Siam Country Club’s Waterside course, which is hosting a professional tournament for the first time. 

The 28-year-old Kiradech battled through pain barrier in his opening six holes before seeking help from a physiotherapist to treat his sore back on the sixth green at the ฿4 million (approximately US$120,000) Asian Development Tour (ADT) event.

“Today’s round wasn’t as smooth as it seems. I had to seek help from the physiotherapist on the sixth green. My back was sore from all the traveling and the amount of golf I had since coming back to Thailand,” said Kiradech, the 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.

Kiradech, who won the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2015, reeled in five straight pars before firing three straight birdies from the sixth. He added four more birdies on 12, 13, 15 and 17 to set the early pace in what is the penultimate event of the 2017 ADT season.

“Overall, my game is not as good as what I wanted it to be. I putted well but I still need to work on my iron-play. Hopefully my back will loosen up more tomorrow and I can play better,” added the burly Thai.

Kiradech will have the aim of breaking into world’s top 50 at the back of his mind as he hopes to earn a second appearance at The Masters next year. He had enjoyed a tied-15th finish at the Augusta National Golf Club when he made his Masters debut in 2016.

“My aim is definitely to try and break into top-50 on the OWGR and qualify for The Masters next year. A win this week will put me closer for sure as I still have two more other events left to play for the year,” Kiradech said.

England’s William Harrold took second place on his own while Thailand’s Pannakorn Uthaipas, placed second on the current Merit rankings, signalled his intent to win the accolade after signing for a 67 to share third place with countryman Chirat Jirasuwan.

“Everything was good for me today. I hit almost all the fairways and I putted really well. I only had one back hole on the second. I hit a bad chip off the green which resulted in the double-bogey.

“I just played my own game and took advantage of the good playing conditions out there to score. I was able to control my ball well. It’s going to be the same for me tomorrow, nothing changes. I will stick to the same game plan,” said the 27-year-old Pannakorn.

ADT Order of Merit leader Masaru Takahashi of Japan battled to a 71 while defending champion Chapchai Nirat of Thailand posted a disappointing 75 in the popular event, which is celebrating its third consecutive edition on the ADT this week.

With the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation being the penultimate event of the 2017 ADT season, players will have everything to play for as they continue to battle for the ADT Order of Merit crown as well as the five Asian Tour cards on offer for the 2018 season.

Leading round one scores:

65 – Kiradech Aphibarnat (Tha)

66 – William Harrold (Eng)

67 – Pannakorn Uthaipas (Tha), Chirat Jirasuwan (Tha)

68 - Teemu PUTKONEN (FIN), Seungjae MAENG (USA), Hamza AMIN (PAK)

Selected scores:

71 – Masaru Takahashi (Jpn)

75 – Chapchai Nirat (Tha)