Local prospect Lee Chieh-po and Thailand’s Panuwat Muenlek made their early moves when they fired matching five-under-par 67s to grab the opening round lead by one shot at the Taifong Open on Thursday.
Lee, who has never finish outside top-10 in the last three editions, continued his love affair with the Taifong Golf Course as he fired seven birdies against two bogeys to sit atop the leaderboard alongside three-time Asian Development Tour (ADT) winner Panuwat.
American John Catlin, local veteran Wang Ter-chang and Thailand’s Sorachut Hansapiban were amongst the six players bunched in third place following identical 68s at the US$160,000 event, which is celebrating its fourth edition as the richest tournament on the ADT schedule.
Defending champion Johannes Veerman of the United States battled to a 71 to tie in 19th position while compatriot and Order of Merit leader Brett Munson returned with a 75 to trail by eight shots in tied-79th place.
Starting from the 10, Panuwat stumbled with a bogey on 12 but recovered brilliantly with three pairs of birdies. He had finished tied-seventh in his debut appearance at the Taifong Open two years ago.
“I am feeling very confident with my game now. I hit the ball good and I putted well too, except for one hole where I three-putted for bogey. I managed to hit it close for birdies today. I made a couple of mistakes in my tee shots but was lucky as I managed to get it back on the fairways.
“I have been practicing a lot. I guess that helped in my game. It wasn’t windy today. If you can hit it to the fairways, it will be easy to score. Tee shots are very important,” said the 32-year-old Thai, who has notched two top-fives so far this season.
Panuwat, a three-time ADT winner, is determined to erase the heartbreak of missing out on his 2017 Asian Tour card by a mere US$1,100 last season. He finished in seventh place on the final 2016 Order of Merit, just one rung off the cut-off mark.
“I’ll just play the same tomorrow. Obviously looking for a good result this week. It’s an important week for me. This year, I will try my best to finish inside top-five on the final Order of Merit. I missed out by one spot for the Asian Tour card last year,” added the father of one.
Lee feels right at home at the Taifong Golf Course where his track record speaks for itself. He came in tied-eighth in the 2014 edition when he was still an amateur.
“I started from the 10 and played solid on my first nine. I took advantage of my hot putter. I had eight one-putts on my front nine. The longest putt was on the 14 where I rolled in for par from 14 yards. My iron-play was good too.
“My putter turned cold on the back nine. I missed about four short putts. But overall, it was a good round. I knew the greens were not easy to control on this course. I thought I was kind of lucky too,” said the 22-year-old Lee.
Catlin’s ‘feel-good’ factor in Chinese Taipei stood in his favour as he opened with a bogey-free round highlighted by four birdies. The 26-year-old American claimed his best result on the Asian Tour in Chinese Taipei two months ago when he finished tied-11th at the Yeangder Heritage.
“I hit the ball really well. I made a few up and downs to keep the momentum going. On the 18, I was 10 yards off the back of the green but I hit it to about 12 feet and made the putt for par. That gave me a lot of confidence heading into my back nine which is the front nine,” said the one time ADT winner.
“Tee shot is crucial on this course. I missed the halfway cut last year so it’s great to return and shoot a low score here. The conditions were good out there. It was pretty calm. I was just trying to stay patient out there and play one shot at a time,” Catlin added.
All ADT events are afforded with Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) status. The winner of the Taifong Open will take home a prize purse of US$28,000 and receive six OWGR points while the top-six players and ties earn points on a sliding scale.
For more information on the ADT, please visit www.asiandevelopmenttour.com.
Leading first round scores:
67 – Panuwat MUENLEK (THA) , LEE Chieh-po (TWN)
68 – John CATLIN (USA) , WANG Ter-chang (TWN) , K P LIN (TWN) , Blake SNYDER (USA) , HUNG Chun-kang (TWN) , Sorachut HANSAPIBAN (THA)
69 – Varanyu RATTANAPHIBOONKIJ (THA) , Sattaya SUPUPRAMAI (THA) , LIN Wen-tang (TWN) , Marcus BOTH (AUS) , Suradit YONGCHAROENCHAI (THA)
70 – Itthipat BURANATANYARAT (THA) , Narutoshi YAMAOKA (JPN) , John Michael O’TOOLE (USA) , LU Chien-soon (TWN) , WANG Wei-lun (TWN)
71 – Jakraphan PREMSIRIGORN (THA) , James BYRNE (SCO) , LIU Yu-jui (TWN) , Quincy QUEK (SGP) , FANG Yin Jen (TWN) , YEH Wei-tze (TWN) , Nirun SAE-UENG (THA) , Nicolas PAEZ (USA) , Paul HARRIS (USA) , KAO Shang-hung (TWN) , Johannes VEERMAN (USA) , Nattawat SUVAJANAKORN (THA)