Samui: Thai veteran star Thaworn Wiratchant took his customary position atop the leaderboard at the weather-hit Queen’s Cup following an opening five-under-par 66 on Thursday.
The 49-year-old former double Asian Tour number one used an old set of irons at Santiburi Samui Country Club to propel his quest for an unprecedented third Queen’s Cup title and 19th Asian Tour victory.
American rookie Sam Chien stood at five-under with one hole remaining when a thunderstorm halted play at 4.20pm. Round one will resume at 6.30am Friday with round two now starting at 7am.
Thailand’s Gunn Charaoenkul sank an opening eagle en route to a 67 to lead the chasing pack at the US$300,000 tournament while Chinese Taipei’s Lu Wei-chih was amongst those bunched a further shot back on 68 after he dropped three shots over his closing two holes.
Korea’s Jeunghun Wang, the highest ranked player in the field, China’s Liang Wen-chong and title holder Prayad Marksaeng enjoyed solid starts with 69s.
The unorthodox swinging Thaworn has endured lackluster form during the opening half of the year but returning to his happy hunting ground and reverting to old clubs proved to be the perfect riposte.
“I’m always happy to come back and play well here,” beamed Thaworn, winner in 2012 and 2014.
“I’ve been trying hard to improve my game. I’ve been working hard on my irons, and have used many different sets recently. I’ve now gone back to old irons which I played well with before and won tournaments with. I have a good feeling with this old set,” added the Thai, who made five birdies on the card.
Gunn, 24, sensationally sank his approach shot for an eagle two on the first hole to enjoy his lowest round at Santiburi Samui, which is nicknamed the Beast of Samui due to its difficulty.
“This is probably my best round here in five years. I had a great opening hole, hit an eagle on the first and I managed to keep the momentum going with a par save on two,” said Gunn.
“There was a (tree) branch in my line but I went for it. I thought if I hit a full 52 degree wedge, even if I hit it over, I would be safe as the pin was in front. My ball hit the branch a bit, and l saw it make the front of the green. When I walked up, I couldn’t find it … looked into the hole and there it was!”
The 37-year-old Lu was poised to top the leaderboard as he was seven-under through 16 holes before errant drives proved costly as he dropped three shots to stumble home.
“I’m not happy,” said Lu, who underwent surgery to remove a non-malignant tumour in the brain in 2012. “Played good in the first 16 holes as I was hitting my second shots close and made some putts.”
Wang, winner of back-to-back tournaments in Morocco and Mauritius last month and ranked second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, launched his title quest with a solid 69 despite a lack of sleep.
“It’s a pretty good round considering I didn’t sleep too well last night. The greens are different compared to Europe, so I was quite confused initially. But I’ve played on this course many times before so I know the course,” said the 20-year-old.
The slender Korean nearly produced the shot of the day on the par three fifth hole when a five iron tee shot hit the flagstick and the ball stayed out of the cup. A slight tweak of his backswing also proved effective for Wang.
“I think I hit it good today. I wasn’t hitting the irons on the sweet spot, so I just changed my backswing. I’m getting the right distances but the direction was a bit off. But this is a good start.”
Scores after round 1 of the Queen's Cup Samui Golf Tournament 2016 being played at the par 71, 6,808 Yards Santiburi GCC course (am - denotes amateur):
66 - Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA).
67 - Gunn CHAROENKUL (THA).
68 - Sorachut HANSAPIBAN (THA), LU Wei-chih (TPE), Nitithorn THIPPONG (THA).
69 - Settee PRAKONGVECH (THA), Jeunghun WANG (KOR), Prayad MARKSAENG (THA), LIANG Wen-chong (CHN).
70 - Wisut ARTJANAWAT (THA), Piya SWANGARUNPORN (THA), Antonio LASCUNA (PHI), Natthapong NIYOMCHON (THA), Phanuvich ONCHU (THA), Rattanon WANNASRICHAN (THA), Itthipat BURANATANYARAT (THA), Namchok TANTIPOKHAKUL (THA).
71 - Simon GRIFFITHS (ENG), Poosit SUPUPRAMAI (THA), Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Adam GROOM (AUS), Poom SAKSANSIN (THA), Wolmer MURILLO (VEN).