Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat fired his way back into contention with five-under-par 67 to pile the pressure on Spaniard leader Miguel Angel Jimenez after the second round of the inaugural US$2 million True Thailand Classic presented by Black Mountain on Friday.
The charismatic Spanish veteran, who is the oldest player in the field, was once again in his element as he raced atop the leaderboard with a 66 while Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand made his move by carding a similar 66 to share third place with Australia’s Scott Hend and one-time Asian Tour winner, Richard T. Lee of Canada at the Black Mountain Golf Club.
Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat meanwhile created the early headlines when he became the proud new owner of a luxury townhouse worth 12 million Thai baht, courtesy of his hole-in-one at the par-three 14th.
After missing the cut at the season-opening event in Malaysia last week, Kiradech returned with all guns blazing at the richest golf tournament in Thailand.
The 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, who started on the back-nine 10, had an opening birdie to get his round going.
He went on to mix two bogeys against two birdies for an outward 35.
But it was an eagle-three on the second hole that surged him further up the leaderboard.
Although he dropped another shot on five, the Thai would respond quickly with another three birdies in his closing four holes to sign for a two-day total of 10-under-par 134.
“I’ve been striking the ball well. I did not make too many mistakes and that’s a huge boost to my confidence,” said Kiradech.
The Thai, who played alongside Jimenez in his opening two rounds, holds the Spaniard in high regard and is wary of the 51-year-old as the weekend rounds approach.
“It’s not easy to beat an old guy like him. He hits the ball very far and is striking it very well. He’s a world-class player in my eyes,” said Kiradech.
Jimenez defied father time and the effects of flu to take his place at the top.
Despite having his card marred by a lone bogey at the last, Jimenez is confident of taking on the best players from the Asian Tour and European Tour.
“I’m very happy. I’m disappointed to make bogey on the last but overall I played very solid and made a lot of birdies.
“You’re always happy when you’re under-par and the more under-par you are, the happier you are,” said Jimenez.
Crowd favourite Thongchai did not disappoint the galleries as he improved on his opening 69 with 66 that was highlighted by seven birdies and one bogey.
“I’m very happy with my score today. I’ll try my best to show the local fans the quality of the Thai players especially at an event on home soil,” said the three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner.
While he is just two shots behind Jimenez, Thongchai knows he has to work on his short game to put himself into contention for his 14th win on the region’s premier Tour.
“I missed about four to five short putts today. I didn’t putt that well and I need to improve on my putting.
“It’s not that far behind but anything can happen in the next two days. Miguel putted very well today. I did say at the beginning whoever putts well this week can win. We will see,” said Thongchai.
Although he had to make the early exit after rounds of 75 and 71, Panuphol’s ‘consolation’ was a four-story, three bedroom townhouse at the Black Mountain Golf Club, which was awarded to the first player to ace the 14th hole.
“I hit the ball to the right and it was a good shot. I saw the ball just gone and I wasn’t sure if it had gone in. But one of the guys ran up and he said there’s no golf ball on the greens.
“So I started yelling. It was out of my mind. Six-iron is my friend now,” said a jubilant Panuphol.
The cut was set at two-under with a total of 79 players making it into the weekend rounds.
Leading scores after round 2 of the True Thailand Classic presented by Black Mountain being played at the par 72, 7359 Yards Black Mountain course (am – denotes amateur):
133 – Miguel JIMENEZ (ESP) 67-66.
134 – Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) 67-67.
135 – Richard T. LEE (CAN) 68-67, Scott HEND (AUS) 67-68, Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 69-66.
136 – Tom LEWIS (ENG) 69-67, Johan CARLSSON (SWE) 69-67, Matthew BALDWIN (ENG) 69-67, Michael HOEY (NIR) 64-72.
137 – Carlos PIGEM (ESP) 65-72, Gregory HAVRET (FRA) 69-68, Wade ORMSBY (AUS) 72-65, Alex NOREN (SWE) 67-70, Rikard KARLBERG (SWE) 72-65, Jeunghun WANG (KOR) 68-69.
138 – Sam BRAZEL (AUS) 69-69, HUNG Chien-yao (TPE) 65-73, Nathan HOLMAN (AUS) 71-67, Jbe KRUGER (RSA) 69-69, Romain WATTEL (FRA) 70-68, Rafael CABRERA-BELLO (ESP) 72-66, David LIPSKY (USA) 65-73, Richard GREEN (AUS) 71-67, Jason KNUTZON (USA) 72-66, Mardan MAMAT (SIN) 70-68, Prom MEESAWAT (THA) 73-65, Adrian OTAEGUI (ESP) 69-69, Andrew DODT (AUS) 71-67.