Hua Hin, Thailand: Brazilian Lucas Lee shot a sparkling 10-under-par 62 for his career’s best score to take the opening round lead at the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Stage on Wednesday.
Lee, who lost his Asian Tour card last season after finishing in 97th place on the Order of Merit, opened up a three-stroke lead over Thai prospect Panuphol Pittayarat and Hirohito Koizumi of Japan at the Springfield Royal Country Club.
American Jonathan Moore posted a solid 66 to lie in fourth position while Korean Song Tae-hoon, Peter Gustafsson of Sweden, Englishman Simon Griffiths, Berry Henson of the United States, Australian Adam Groom and Japanese Hirotaro Naito were bunched in tied fifth place on matching 67s.
The Final Stage, presented by Sports Authority of Thailand, will be played over two courses at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Springfield Royal Country Club and Imperial Lakeview Golf Club. Players will play on alternate courses for the first two rounds while the final two rounds will be played at Springfield Royal.
A total of 175 players from more than 30 countries are vying to finish among the top-40 and ties where they will earn playing rights on the 2011 Asian Tour season.
Lee, 24, who played college golf at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), shot identical 31s on each nine with eight birdies and an eagle-three on hole 12 after his six-iron approach shot landed 10 feet from the pin.
“Playing in Qualifying School is more grinding and it feels a little bit more tensed compared to regular tournaments. But I was hitting a lot of fairways and greens and the putts were dropping and that was the key for me,” said Lee, who is the cousin to LPGA player Angela Park.
He enjoyed a strong start to his rookie season last year, finishing in tied ninth place at the Asian Tour International in Thailand but his form took a dip due to fatigue as he juggled playing in Asia and Canada.
“I played 10-weeks in a row last year, rotating between Asia and Canada and it was really tiring. If I earn my Asian Tour card this season, I’m going to concentrate playing more in Asia. With all the good stuff that’s happening on the Asian Tour, I wanted to come out here and play again,” he added.
Panuphol, nicknamed “Coconut” by his family, was delighted with his spirited start in his third attempt at Asian Tour Qualifying School. He shot a bogey free 65 highlighted by three straight birdies from the sixth hole.
“Everything was perfect from my driver to my putting. This is actually my lowest score ever since I turned professional! I could have made it eight-under but wasn’t confident with the line on the last hole. It was left to right but I hit it straight and it didn’t reach near the hole at all,” said Panuphol.
Japanese Koizumi, 35, welcomed a return to form after narrowly qualifying for the Final Stage on the cutline in tied 26thplace in the First Stage last week.
“I barely made it to the Final Stage so I’m happy just to be here. I was struggling with my putting last week but after practising yesterday (Tuesday) it started to work wonders for me,” said Koizumi, who has won once on the Japan Challenge Tour.
Moore, who earned the winning point in the 2007 US Walker Cup team, bogeyed the first hole but bounced back with a hat-trick of birdies on the second hole before adding further birdies on holes seven, eight, 16 and 18.
This is his second attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School after missing out on the Final Stage last year by one stroke.
“I started with a bogey and three straight birdies. That was kind of nice because it put me at ease. I’m trying to get a status somewhere and the Asian Tour is a wonderful Tour. I’m hoping to get over here and get playing experience. Hopefully I can use it to progress my game,” said the 25-year-old, who played at Springfield Royal.
Asian Tour GolfGreedy.com