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Crans Montana, Switzerland: A new putter propelled Chapchai Nirat to a superb five-under-par 66 in the first round of the Omega European Masters on Thursday.
The Thai star brilliantly sank seven birdies against a double bogey at the spectacular Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club to lead the Asian Tour’s challenge at the €2 million (US$2.8 million) co-sanctioned event with the European Tour.
Chapchai’s playing partner Matteo Manassero, a 17-year-old Italian prodigy, fired a sparkling 64 and leads Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and Englishman Graeme Storm by a stroke.
Starting from the 10th, the big-hitting Chapchai overcame a costly five at the par three 16th hole with some hot putting. He converted all his birdie chances from inside of 10 feet.
“Today, my putting was very good. I changed my putter this week and it feels better. This course is difficult. With the (high) altitude, it is difficult to judge the distances and the greens are difficult too,” said the three-time Asian Tour winner, who holds the 72-hole world scoring record.
Chapchai, nicknamed “King Kong” for his long driving game, lamented his lone error when a wayward tee shot at the 16th hole saw him land well left of the target. He was forced to lay up his second shot before staggering off with a double bogey.
“I hit one bad shot. If you can hit the fairways here, the second shot is easy. I played here last year and I really like it,” said the 27-year-old, who ended the day in tied fourth place with amongst others, last week’s winner of the Johnnie Walker Championship Edoardo Molinari of Italy and Asian Tour member Rick Kulacz of Australia.
Manassero, who became the youngest winner of the British Amateur Championship last year and also the youngest player to make the halfway cut at the Masters Tournament in April, was the toast of the day with his stunning seven-birdie round.
“It was the perfect round. I didn’t miss many greens and when I did, I recovered well with up and downs. I don’t think I could have expected better,” said the teenager.
Ilonen holed two chip-in birdies on his inward nine for his fast start. “It was an entertaining round. I didn’t strike the ball the best but I managed to put a good score. The par threes are really strong here and those were my best holes. I played those in two under and missed two chances. Overall, I was happy,” said the Finn.
Malaysia’s Ben Leong stormed home with four birdies in his last six holes for a solid 69 while India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, a two-time Asian Tour number one, shot a 70. Angelo Que of the Philippines, winner of last month’s Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters and top-10 here last year, opened with a 70 as well.
“I was really disappointed with the way I played. I hit the ball really well but couldn’t hole anything. It was summed up at the last hole, making a bogey with a sand wedge in hand,” said Singh.
Que was delighted to finish in red figures. “My short game was pretty amazing. It saved me quite a few times as I made up and downs about eight or nine times and to shoot one under was amazing. I’ve got positive vibes coming back here,” said the Filipino.
Reigning Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee battled to a 71 which was matched by current Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul of Korea, who played alongside Australian legend Greg Norman.
Shot of the day belonged to Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg, who holed in one with a six iron at the 191-yard par three fourth hole en route to a 69. The magical shot earned him a one kilo gold ingot from Credit Suisse worth approximately CH30,000. “That’s a nice feeling. I’ve never held a bar of gold,” he said.
Norman, who was announced as Omega’s newest brand ambassador today, returned a 75.

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