Korea’s Baek fires course record 66 to lead Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic

Siem Reap: Korea’s Baek Seuk-hyun established a new course record of six-under-par 66 to open up a one-shot lead after the opening round of the inaugural Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic on Wednesday.

The talented 21-year-old produced matching halves of 33s in the US$300,000 Asian Tour event at the impressive Angkor Golf Resort as he finally overcame his driving yips which had haunt him for most of last season.

Ireland’s Niall Turner overcame a double bogey to card a fine 67 while Thailand’s 16-year-old newcomer Rattanon Wannasrichan showed he was a star in the making with a bogey-free 68 to be bunched with countrymen Chawalit Plaphol and Atthaphon Prathummanee, Filipino Elmer Salvador, Australian Paul Donahoo, Korea’s Kim Hyung-sung and American Berry Henson.

After finishing 51st on the Order of Merit last season, the burly Baek, who is seeking his first Asian Tour victory, overhauled his golf swing after ending 2011 ranked a lowly 92nd with 54% of fairways hit.

“It was quite windy and I was just playing fairways and greens, fairways and greens. Suddenly, my putting was good and my irons just went to the pins. I missed some putts but I’m happy with my score,” said Baek, who recorded long birdie conversion from off the green on the 18th and first holes.

“I’ve been changing my swing for the past three months and missed three cuts in a row. I have been working hard and last week in the Singha Masters (a local Thai event), the form was getting better. The confidence is coming back and I just went for it in every shot.”

Such was Baek’s despair with the longest club in the bag that he did not use the driver for most of 2011. “No more hooks and my yips for the driver is now gone. I’m pretty confident with the new swing and grip. I’m really happy with this as I missed only four fairways. Hopefully I’ll play good tomorrow and maybe I’ll have a chance to win the trophy,” said the Thai-based Baek, who needed only 25 putts in his round.

The lanky Turner lost his ball in the trees on his 11th hole of the day at the second but fought back with four birdies in his last seven holes. “I was pretty proud of that. In the past, I would have got cranky and let a few shots drift away,” said the Irishman, who is playing his second season on the Asian Tour.

“I was hitting my driver long and made it easy on some of the holes where I got a wedge or nine iron which made a big difference as you can stop the ball quite quickly. It definitely wasn’t easy.”

Thai teenager Rattanon, who turned professional in January after winning the team and individual gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia, underlined his potential with four birdies on the card.

Like Baek, his driving was laser-guided as he missed only three fairways and took just 26 putts.
“My tee shots were so good but my iron play was average,” smiled the softly-spoken Thai, whose longest birdie conversion was from 20 feet at the 13th hole.

Rattanon, who missed out on his Asian Tour card by two shots at Qualifying School in January when he double bogeyed his last hole, said he turned professional early with the intention of rewriting Asian Tour history.

“I want to try to become the youngest Asian Tour winner,” he declared. “Chinnarat (Phadungsil) won on the Asian Tour when he was 17 years and five days old, so I’ve got less than a year to try to do it.”

After working two years in a golf shop in Brisbane, Danohoo is enjoying his rookie season touring Asia’s elite circuit where he has made three cuts on the trot, including a tied for sixth place at the ICTSI Philippine Open last month.

With a hot putter in hand, the 31-year-old took 23 strokes on the slick Angkor greens to feature on the leaderboard. “Putted really well,” he enthused. “It was good from about five to 10 feet. A lot of birdie putts and a couple of crucial par putts. It’s just a good golf course and good fun.

“Asia is a lot like Queensland … similar climate, similar grasses. The courses are very similar too. I’ve done some sports psychology work and that’s helped a lot. I’m obviously enjoying it,” he said.

Scores after round 1 of the Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic being played at the par 72, 7279 Yards Angkor Golf Resort course (a- denotes amateur):
66 - BAEK Seuk-hyun (KOR).
67 - Niall TURNER (IRL).
68 - Rattanon WANNASRICHAN (THA), KIM Hyung-sung (KOR), Elmer SALVADOR (PHI), Chawalit PLAPHOL (THA), Paul DONAHOO (AUS), Atthaphon PRATHUMMANEE (THA), Berry HENSON (USA).
69 - Hamza AMIN (AUT), Ajeetesh SANDHU (IND), Ben LEONG (MAS), S. Siva CHANDHRAN (MAS), Shaaban HUSSIN (MAS), KIM Gi-whan (KOR), Namchok TANTIPOKHAKUL (THA), HONG Soon-sang (KOR), Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA), Jonathan MOORE (USA).