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Japan’s Tetsuji Hiratsuka set a new course record of eight-under-par 64 to take the first round lead at the Air Bagan Myanmar Open presented by IBTC on Thursday.
The five-time winner in Japan bettered Australian Gavin Flint’s course record of 66 after brilliantly posting an eagle, seven birdies and one bogey in the US$300,000 event, which is making a return onto the Asian Tour Schedule after a four-year hiatus.
Flint, winner of the Myanmar Masters on the Asian Development Tour in January, sweet-swinging Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand and diminutive South African Jbe Kruger are two strokes back on 66 at the Pun Hlaing Golf Club.
Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang, Malaysian M. Sasidaran and Adam Blyth of Australia are among nine players bunched in tied fifth position on 67.
Local hopefuls Zaw Myint Thein and Naing Naing Lin shot matching 68s to lie in tied 14th place alongside Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Order of Merit leader Andrew Dodt of Australia and Filipino Juvic Pagunsan.
Hiratsuka, who finished third in the Asian Tour International in Thailand and Avantha Masters in India, fired a remarkable eagle-two on the eighth hole after his eight-iron approach shot found the bottom of the hole from 162 yards.
“My irons were excellent and that helped. The golf course also suits my game and I’m really happy with my good start,” said the 39-year-old.
Hiratsuka, who missed the cut in the Maybank Malaysian Open in March after struggling with the heat, is aware that the tough conditions in Yangon will also play a pivotal role this week.
“The weather here is very hot but luckily I teed-off in the morning where it was cooler. I have to keep myself hydrated tomorrow to keep myself in the lead,” added the Japanese, who is searching of his first Asian Tour victory.
Prayad was disappointed when two of his tee shots found water on the second and 11th holes. However, he recovered with a monster eagle putt on the fifth hole from 50 feet.  
“My putting was really good and that’s a positive sign. I have been struggling in the last two tournaments because of my putting but it is slowly coming back,” said the six-time Asian Tour winner.
Prayad endured a slow start to the season where he missed two cuts but said that he was now back to his best form. “If I start holing more putts, I’m confident I will be in contention. My form is almost back to where it was and I’m looking forward to play the next few rounds.”
Starting from the back nine, Flint finished strongly with an eagle three on the seventh hole and sank a massive 30 feet putt for birdie on the eighth to push him into tied second and a chance to earn a Myanmar double.
The Australian missed four cuts this season but is hopeful of turning his fortunes around. “I like the way the course plays. It is firm with quick greens and it is one reason why I play so well here.
“I played here two months ago (Air Bagan Myanmar Masters) so that gives me a bit of advantage over the others. Hopefully today’s round is a sign of better things to come,” said Flint.
Sasidaran got off to a positive start courtesy of seven birdies against two bogeys. “It was a good round where my tee shots and putting helped pull my game up. I need to keep my rhythm and focus to stay on top,” said the 33-year-old.
Leading first round scores
64 - Tetsuji Hiratsuka (JPN)
66 - Prayad Marksaeng (THA), Gavin Flint (AUS), Jbe Kruger (RSA)
67 - Scott Hend (AUS), Adam Blyth (AUS), Pariya Junhasavasdikul (THA), Corey Harris (USA), Kim Young-Jin (KOR), Pasamet Pogamnerd (THA), Gaurav Pratap Singh (IND), M. Sasidaran (MAS), Lin Wen-Tang (TPE)
68 - Juvic Pagunsan (PHI), Naing Naing Lin (MYN), Zaw Myint Thein (MYN), Lin Wen-Hong (TPE), Hideto Tanihara (JPN), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Yan Myo Aye  [A] (MYN), Pijit Petchkasem (THA), Ronnachai Jamnong (THA)

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