Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat enjoyed his lowest round at Augusta National with a 3-under 69 in the first round at the Masters Tournament to lie three shots off the lead on Thursday.
The 29-year-old was one-over through 12 holes before finishing strongly in the year’s opening major with an eagle on 13, followed by successive birdies on 15 and 16 to eclipse his previous best score by one stroke.
Making his third appearance at the Masters, Kiradech said staying patient was key to his good start. “I’d been waiting for my first birdie,” said Kiradech, the first Thai to play full-time on the PGA TOUR this season.
He turned his fortunes around with a majestic three iron approach into the par-5 13th hole which landed 16 feet from the flag and converted the eagle putt. A textbook two-putt birdie at the next par-5 hole on 15, followed by an eight-foot birdie conversion on the par-3 16th hole ensured his good start.
“After my drive on 13, I ended up in the right rough but I had a good number. The greens are quite soft, so I could land it in the middle of the green, into the slope, bring the ball down close to the flag,” said Kiradech, who finished T15 in 2016 and T44 last season in his first two starts at Augusta National.
The big-hitting Kiradech will enter the second round in tied sixth place behind co-leaders Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, who fired matching 66s to set the early pace.
Kiradech’s season on the PGA TOUR has been up-and-down so far, with six made cuts from 10 starts including two top-5s at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and WGC-Mexico Championship being the main highlights.
A return to Augusta National brings good memories and he has been keeping himself relaxed in the company of friends who fellow Thais and LPGA Tour stars Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, who caddied for him at the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday.
“I’m really happy with the way I started,” said Kiradech. “Three-under is not easy at all. You have to be solid every single shot, hole the putts. This course can hurt you a lot.”