Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee made seven birdies and eagled the par-5 15th hole en route to a 7-under 65 for the first round lead at the Principal Charity Classic at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa on Friday.

Making his fifth start on PGA TOUR Champions after getting into the field through Monday qualifying, the 51-year-old Asian legend leads by one stroke from Dicky Pride and Doug Barron, with Fred Couples and Jerry Kelly amongst six players lying on 67.

“Very happy with my round. I played a really good round. Hit my irons very good and putted very well. This golf course is very tricky and you have to hit good tee shots. You don’t need to use a lot of driver, you can use 3 wood or 7 wood and hit the fairway. That’s why my game plan makes me confident,” said Thongchai.

The Thai star finished second in PGA TOUR Champions Qualifying School in December 2019 but made only two starts last year in March due to the impact of COVID-19. He returned to the U.S. last month for the  Mitsubishi Electric Classic and then finished T23 in last week’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Champion for his best finish on PGA TOUR Champions to date.

TULSA, OKLAHOMA – MAY 27: Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand plays his shot from the 13th tee during the First Round of the Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 27, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

“I plan to play better and try to get my card for next year. I don’t have enough tournaments to play on Champions and was very happy I (Monday) qualified this week. I think that’s why I’m confident. I love the golf course. Very challenging and the condition is perfect,” he said.

Thongchai intends to remain in the U.S. for the rest of the year and attend Monday qualifying whenever he is not exempted into events and he hopes to play well enough to secure his full playing rights for next season. “I was stuck at home and couldn’t to leave my country. The more important thing is you have to keep practicing, and try to get to come here. Will try my best,” he said.

The 51-year-old is one of Asia’s best players, with seven European Tour victories and three Asian Tour Order of Merit titles under his belt. Although he never held a full PGA TOUR card, Thongchai made 70 starts and posted three top-10s. With a win this week, he would become the first player from Thailand to win on PGA TOUR Champions.

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