Local hope Raththee leads the way

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Thailand’s Raththee Sirithanakunsak mastered windy conditions to sign for a seven-under-par 63, grabbing the opening round lead by one shot at the Royal Cup on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Thai, chasing for a breakthrough win on the Asian Tour, returned with a flawless card highlighted by seven birdies to take his place atop the leaderboard at the US$500,000 event held at the Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club.

In-form Justin Harding of South Africa, who just claimed his maiden victory on the region’s premier Tour in Indonesia two weeks ago, continued his good run of form by carding a 64 to tie in second place with Japan’s Naoto Nakanishi.

Raththee, a one-time winner on the Asian Development Tour, took advantage of his hot putter by navigating his ways around the greens with only 24 putts. Despite finding only nine fairways, the lanky Thai managed to hit 13 greens in regulation for his commendable round of 63.

The 32-year-old Harding, playing in only his second start on the Asian Tour this season, stood tall amidst the windy conditions to post a bogey-free round highlighted by six birdies. Nakanishi, 29, was equally flawless in his round of 64.

The Royal Cup is held in honour of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who will celebrate his 66th birthday on Saturday.

Did you know?

  • Raththee Sirithanakunsak took advantage of his hot putter where he amassed a total of 24 putts in his bogey-free round of 63
  • Raththee claimed his first Asian Development Tour (ADT) at the 2015 Boonchu Ruangkit Championship. He changed his name later that year for good luck. Was previously known as Phiphatphong Naewsuk.
  • The Thai joined the play-for pay ranks in 2010 after attending two years of military service.
  • He enjoyed a  tied-11th place finish at the 2017 Royal Cup.
  • Justin Harding only missed two greens and hit 10 fairways in his opening round.
  • Prior to his Asian Tour breakthrough in Indonesia, Harding has claimed back-to-back victories and three top-10 results in his last five starts on the Sunshine Tour, where he leads the current Order of Merit.
  • Harding started the 2018 season in 712th place on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR). He is now ranked 127th position in the world.
  • Nakanishi hit only eight fairways and 10 greens.The Japanese, however, needed only 22 putts around the greens in his opening round.
  • Josh Younger came through Asian Tour Qualifying School this year to earn his card for the 2018 season.
  • He enjoyed his first top-10 result this season at the Asia-Pacific Classic in China in May.

Player’s quotes:

Raththee Sirithanakunsak – First Round 63 (-7)

I played really well and I putted great today. Made no mistakes which I didn’t expect. I made two long putts from outside of 15-feet on my last two holes to finish strong. I didn’t do well on the par-fives because it was windy in my first nine holes especially. It is my third competition

I was injured at Queen’s Cup and had to retire due to inflammation in my hip and had to take a long break to prepare for this tournament. I am not at a 100% yet and I am still on medicine to manage the pain but it doesn’t affect my swing that much.

My caddy is my friend but because he doesn’t know how to play golf he doesn’t know the rules and was running around the greens. In a way he took the pressure off because it was funny to see him making mistakes like walking in the right direction and walking over lines.

Justin Harding (Rsa) – First Round 64 (-6)

I didn’t really stress myself out there too much today. Conditions were pretty easy and I just stuck to my game plan I figured out yesterday during my round, that I don’t have to be so aggressive here in Asia. It’s more mapping out the golf course and keeping yourself in play and attacking with the wedges to a mid-iron.

It was nice solid ballstriking performance today and with a bit of luck around the greens it could have been better, but no complains about a bogey-free round.

I hope the wind keeps blowing actually because I grew up playing in quite a bit of wind and I’m used to it. I was comfortable out there and there were a couple of holes I just stayed away from the flag with my approach and accepted the two-putts and moved on.

Naoto Nakanishi (Jpn) – First Round 64 (-6)

Everything about my game was good today. I haven’t had the best season on the Japan circuit so my ranking is not very high and I could not get into the tournament in Japan this week. But I managed to get a spot this week in Thailand and I am playing it well so I know I can get some good results if I continue hitting it like how I did today.

I really like this course, its all about playing it smart and keeping it on the fairway. You have to be smart about where you land your ball off the tee and approaching the greens. I enjoy this aspect of the game, thinking through shots and playing it smart instead of hitting driver off the tee every time since I am not a very long hitter.

Josh Younger (Aus) – First Round 65 (-5)

I putted really good, it was working well for me today. I hit it really solid too, went out of position a couple of times with my drives. All in all pretty happy with my game today.

I hit a lot of my shots close today and was striking my ball well. I played to my strengths and just played it safe instead of hitting the driver off the tee every single time.

There were a couple of tricky pins but you just have to stay patient and not force anything coming in.

Lu Wei-Chih (Tpe) – First Round 66 (-4)

My irons and approach shots helped me a lot today. The key to scoring on this course is to make fairways and give yourself a chance to get to the green. The greens here are very undulating so you have to pick specific spots to land your ball.

I missed a couple of greens which cost me some strokes, like on hole 17 I missed the green and had a tough lie to make an up-and-down.

On hole nine I hit my tee shot into the fairway bunker and had a tough lie so I could not make it onto the green in two shots. My chipping failed me a couple of times today so I will be working on that. But I got a little tired towards the end of the round, it gets really hot out there and with the wind in your face it wears you down.

I am happy I came back with a good round today but I need to eliminate a lot of mistakes in tomorrow’s round because I know I can do better.

Scores after round 1 of the Royal Cup 2018 being played at the par 70, 6716 Yards Phoenix Gold GCC course (am – denotes amateur):
63 – Raththee SIRITHANAKUNSAK (THA).
64 – Justin HARDING (RSA), Naoto NAKANISHI (JPN).
65 – Josh YOUNGER (AUS).
66 – Pol KEMMARAT (THA), Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA), LU Wei-chih (TPE), Miguel CARBALLO (ARG), Chaiphat KOONMARK (THA), Ben LEONG (MAS), Shiv KAPUR (IND), Jarin TODD (USA).
67 – Joohyung KIM (KOR), Sam CHIEN (USA), Mark BROWN (NZL), Somsak KAOPRATUM (THA), Daniel FOX (AUS), Danny CHIA (MAS), Sarit SUWANNARUT (THA), Malcolm KOKOCINSKI (SWE), John CATLIN (USA), Sattaya SUPUPRAMAI (THA), Simon YATES (SCO), Honey BAISOYA (IND).
68 – Travis SMYTH (AUS), Itthipat BURANATANYARAT (THA), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Seungtaek LEE (KOR), Nirun SAE-UENG (THA), LIU Yanwei (CHN), Terry PILKADARIS (AUS), Jack HARRISON (ENG), Himmat RAI (IND), Kurt KITAYAMA (USA), Michael CHOI (AUS), Thitipat PHATAM (THA).

To download full results please click here.

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