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Hua Hin, Thailand: Thailand’s Atthaphon Prathummanee regained his love for golf in time to shoot an opening six-under-par 66 for a share of fourth place at the US$600,000 Black Mountain Masters on Thursday.

Atthaphon was on the brink of walking away from the game after a lacklustre Asian Tour season but returned after a two-month sabbatical with a stronger mental approach which worked wonders at the scenic Black Mountain Golf Club today.

He credited his return to form after working with his coach Suang Junurai, who is also the manager in the sports department of Singha Corporation on his mental game.

“I quit golf for two months (after the Queen’s Cup in June in Thailand and returned in September at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters). I was working with my coach on my mental game. Golf was starting to feel boring because I put in 100% in training but the results did not show,” said Atthaphon, who has been playing on the Asian Tour since the early 2000s.

His new found love for the game resulted in five birdies and one eagle where he chipped in from seven yards on the par five sixth hole. His only blemish came on holes eight and 18 in the season-finale of the 2010 Asian Tour season.

“I feel more relaxed compared to the last six or seven years I’ve been playing golf. I feel more like a golfer now and realize that it isn’t just about hitting golf balls but also keeping your mind strong,” said the 32-year-old.

Atthaphon currently lingers in 84th position on the Order of Merit and knows he has an uphill task of breaking into the top-61 to secure his Asian Tour card for next season.

“Roughly about US$23,000 separates me and the 61st position but anything is possible. I just need to concentrate on my own game and focus more,” said Atthaphon, who needs at least a top-five finish this week to have a chance.

India’s Himmat Rai, currently in 75th place on the Order of Merit, also shot a 66 to give himself a shot of breaking the top-61. He fired a hat-trick of birdies on each nine.

“I’ve been hitting it pretty solid and putting well and when you do that, you will play well. We all know how it is at the moment (on the Order of Merit) and everyone who are not in the safe zone are trying to get in. But I’m not going to let it distract me as I’m going to try to play my best in the next three days,” said the 23-year-old.

Simon Griffiths of England wielded a hot putter as he made four consecutive birdies from the eighth hole before signing off with a 66 and lamented the opportunities missed earlier in the season of securing a good position on the Order of Merit.

“I’ve had all my chances to secure my Asian Tour card and to leave it to the last tournament is not ideal. You just have to go out, play your best and see what happens,” said Griffiths, who is currently in 66th place on the Order of Merit.

Guido Van Der Valk of the Netherlands, currently in 61st position on the Order of Merit, shot a 70 sprinkled with four birdies against a pair of bogeys and was delighted with his promising start where he reckons a top-20 finish will ensure he retains his Tour card for 2011.

“If I can put four solid rounds together and play myself into the top-10 and the top-20 then it should be enough to secure my card for next season. With a little bit of luck and good golf, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Guido, who finished in tied 19th and tied fourth at the Hero Honda Indian Open and Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open respectively.

Photo - Asian Tour

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