Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat rolled back the years today shooting a seven-under-par 64 to take the lead in the US$1 million Saudi Open presented by Public Investment Fund – the season-ending event on the Asian Tour.

His young amateur compatriot Ratchanon ‘TK” Chantananuwat, brimming with confidence having recently been accepted to Stanford University next year, is in second following a 66, along with Mexico’s Luis Carrera, while American Kevin Na, Korean Jung Chanmin and Australia’s Todd Sinnott shot 67s – on an unexpectedly windy here at Riyadh Golf Club.

Forty-year-old Chapchai, who claimed the last of his four Asian Tour titles in 2014, threatened to win the Taiwan Glass Taifong Open two weeks ago, leading at the halfway mark before a final day 75 saw him slip back into a tie for 11th.

“Today so happy,” said the Thai golfer, who started on 10 and made an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys.

“The wind is so strong. I had to keep the tee shot in the fairway. I was lucky. I started on the back nine. I was three under for the nine, that was good.”

Having been in the golfing wilderness for several seasons, he has bounced back this year and is 31st on the Asian Tour Order of Merit. A third-place finish in The DGC Open presented by Mastercard in March being his best performance in five years.

He added: “I am not thinking about my game too much, I am in a good place.”

TK, aged 16 and the region’s most exciting young golfer, birdied 17 and 18 to complete his best round on the Asian Tour for a considerable period, as following his sensational victory in the Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup on the Asian Tour last year, his focus has been on his studies.

“I haven’t shot anything better than a four under in an Asian Tour event for quite some time so it’s really refreshing to see myself play good golf,” he said.

“I had lots of fun out there. I think the wind made it super interesting.  It’s been dead for the past three days so for it to have wind I am super happy.”

He didn’t drop a single shot today, making a birdie on the second, before further gains on 10 and 15.

His relief at finally mounting a challenge was palpable.  

He added: “It has been very busy for the past two years. Ever since I decided I wanted to go to Stanford it has just been super hectic. Just school and golf. I barely had time to breathe. 

“Now that I have been accepted the workload is still there and I have to graduate high school with pretty much three top grades, but the fact that I can let the world know, I can confirm it … I know I am going, I have got that acceptance letter, it relieves a lot of the pressure, mentally mostly.”

Five-time PGA Tour winner Na came into this week feeling his game is in a good place and backed that up today with a strong start.  A missed six-footer for birdie on the last cost him outright second place. 

“I played really good. The front nine I played winds were low,” said the 40-year-old, now enjoying life on the LIV Golf League, where he is captain of Iron Heads GC. 

“I took advantage of that and shot four under. At the turn, the wind started pumping. Some balls were moving 20-plus yards in the crosswinds. Made it difficult. 

“Overall, I played well. Made a couple of mistakes. I was a little disappointed about that six-footer lipping out on the last hole, but we have three more days to go.

“My game felt good coming into this week. Took some time off and thought about my golf game. I made a couple of minor little changes that I felt could be good for next year and I wanted to test it out. First round it felt pretty good out there.”

Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai, Gunn Charoenkul, Panuphol Pittayat and Tirawat Kaewsiribandit plus Korean Seungtaek Lee fired 68s.

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, one of the event’s marquee players, came in with a 70.

Scores after round 1 of the Saudi Open presented by PIF being played at the par 71, 7246 Yards Riyadh Golf Club course (am – denotes amateur):
64 – Chapchai Nirat (THA).
66 – Ratchanon Chantananuwat (am, THA), Luis Carrera (MEX).
67 – Todd Sinnott (AUS), Kevin Na (USA), Chanmin Jung (KOR).
68 – Gunn Charoenkul (THA), Panuphol Pittayarat (THA), Seungtaek Lee (KOR), Denwit Boriboonsub (THA), Phachara Khongwatmai (THA), Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (THA).
69 – Suradit Yongcharoenchai (THA), Steve Lewton (ENG), Bjorn Hellgren (SWE), Chonlatit Chuenboonngam (THA), Douglas Klein (AUS), Jinichiro Kozuma (JPN), Nitithorn Thippong (THA), Jaewoong Eom (KOR), Danthai Boonma (THA).
70 – Settee Prakongvech (THA), Angelo Que (PHI), Veer Ahlawat (IND), Othman Raouzi (MOR), Bai Zhengkai (CHN), Bio Kim (KOR), William Harrold (ENG), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Rattanon Wannasrichan (THA), Tomoyo Ikemura (JPN).
71 – Joel Stalter (FRA), Kyongjun Moon (KOR), S. Chikkarangappa (IND), Berry Henson (USA), Travis Smyth (AUS), Prom Meesawat (THA), Miguel Carballo (ARG), Yikeun Chang (KOR), Dodge Kemmer (USA), Jbe Kruger (RSA), James Piot (USA), Jazz Janewattananond (THA), Hung Chien-yao (TPE), Guntaek Koh (KOR), Wang Wei-hsuan (TPE), Aaron Wilkin (AUS), Yuvraj Sing Sandhu (IND).
72 – Itthipat Buranatanyarat (THA), Kosuke Hamamoto (THA), Ben Leong (MAS), Taehee Lee (KOR), David Drysdale (SCO), Chang Wei-lun (TPE), Joshua Grenville-Wood (UAE), Sam Mullane (am, UAE), Pawin Ingkhapradit (THA), Yongjun Bae (KOR), Pavit Tangkamolprasert (THA).
73 – Andrew Dodt (AUS), Ervin Chang (MAS), Ajeetesh Sandhu (IND), Atiruj Winaicharoenchai (THA), Kieran Vincent (ZIM), Nicholas Fung (MAS), Matt Killen (ENG), Soufiane Dahmane (am, MOR), Honey Baisoya (IND), Ryosuke Kinoshita (JPN), Scott Hend (AUS), Natipong Srithong (THA), Karandeep Kochhar (IND), Yoseop Seo (KOR), Ayoub Lguirati (MOR).
74 – Khalid Walid Attieh (am, KSA), Shergo Al Kurdi (ENG), Michael Maguire (USA), Ayoub Id-Omar (MOR), Turk Pettit (USA), Yeongsu Kim (KOR), Ian Snyman (RSA), Matthew Cheung (HKG), Saleh Alkaabi (am, QAT).
75 – Barnes Franklin-Wallis (ENG), Kevin Yuan (AUS), Sam Brazel (AUS), Lloyd Jefferson Go (PHI), Ali Alsakha (am, KSA), Ahmed Marjan (MOR), Chen Guxin (CHN), Sarit Suwannarut (THA), Faisal Salhab (KSA), Mustapha El Maouas (MOR).
76 – Othman Almulla (KSA), Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA), Jeremy Gandon (FRA), Saud Al Sharif (KSA), Rashid Khan (IND), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND), Charng-Tai Sudsom (THA), K.P. Lin (TPE), Naraajie Ramadhanputra (INA), Runchanapong Youprayong (THA).
77 – Kipp Popert (am, ENG), Justin Quiban (PHI), A.J. Batty (ENG).
78 – Doyeob Mun (KOR), Angus Flanagan (ENG), Issa Abouelela (am, EGY), Shahriffuddin Ariffin (MAS), Ayoub Ssouadi (MOR).
79 – Zane Scotland (ENG).
81 – Elyes Barhoumi (am, TUN).
83 – Kamil Bensouda (am, MOR), Alex Ching (USA).
85 – Jamal Allali (MOR).
87 – Prince Khalid Al-Faisal (am, KSA).
Micah Lauren Shin, USA – RT
Kyle Stanley, USA – RT
Siddikur Rahman, Bangladesh – WD

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