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MARS STANDING IN KIRADECH’S WAY AT ASIAN TOUR

 

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MARS STANDING IN KIRADECH’S WAY AT ASIAN TOUR INTERNATIONAL
 
Bangkok, February 5: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat stepped closer to victory at the Asian Tour International on Friday but standing in his way was Filipino Mars Pucay.


The 39-year-old Pucay, who has plied his trade in Asia since 1995 without a win, fired a second successive three-under-par 69 at the Suwan Golf and Country Club to share the halfway lead with co-overnight leader Kiradech, who returned a 70 for a six-under-par 138 total in the US$300,000 season-opening tournament.
 
One shot back is in-form Singaporean Lam Chih Bing, who also carded a 70 while American rookie David Johnson sneaked into contention with another 70 to lie three shots back with Thai duo Thammanoon Srirot and Wisut Artjanawat and Filipino Angelo Que, who shot the day’s best of 67.
 
Thai amateur Atiwit Janewattananond wrote a slice of history by becoming the youngest player at 14 years and 71 days to make the halfway cut on the Asian Tour after shooting a 73 for tied eighth place on 142, with amongst others, Malaysia’s Ben Leong, India’s rising star Gaganjeet Bhullar and eight-time Japan Tour winner Hideto Tanihara. Attiwit, a grade eight student and a member of the Thai amateur squad, eclipsed Chinese Taipei’s Lo Shih-kai, who was 14 years and 275 days at the 2003 Taiwan Open.
 
Pucay kept his round steady with four birdies against a lone bogey. “It was a great day for me. I hit the ball really well except for two tee shots which I managed to save par on the last hole. Other than that, I played really well,” he said.
 
The veteran Filipino, who holed the season’s first ace on Thursday, said the key this weekend would be to remain patient. “I am waiting for my first win, which is my goal this year. I’ll attack when I have an open chance but if the pins are tucked, I’ll play it safe. It’s tough out there,” said Pucay, who holds 11 career top-10s on the Asian Tour.
 
Former world junior champion Kiradech turned in 37 but fought back with four birdies and another bogey to keep alive his dreams of a first Asian Tour victory at home. “I had two three-putts for bogeys on the front nine. But on the back nine, I hit it closer to the pins,” said the burly Thai, who finished 30th on the Order of Merit as a rookie last year.
 
“I am hitting the driver well this week. I’m not feeling nervous at all. As I’m playing in Thailand, my family and friends are here and I’m not feeling too excited. I’m keeping my concentration well.”
 
Lam kept himself within touching distance of the leaders with a fighting performance. He won a domestic Thai event last weekend but a second Asian Tour triumph is very much the goal for the Singaporean.
 
“On the front nine, I was struggling but made a lot of par putts and on the back nine, I hit it good but missed a lot of opportunities. I’m still within striking distance. As long as I stay in contention, that’s the key,” said Lam.

“I know my swing pretty well now that when I hit a bad shot, I kind of know what I am doing wrong. My caddie told me to stay patient. On the 15th hole, I hit it to five feet and finally made one. And then I made a 12 footer on the next hole,” he said.
 
Lam was impressed by Kiradech’s game, saying the Thai could be the man to beat. “Kiradech makes the game look so easy. He hits it long and chips and putts well. He’s much longer than I am, about 20 or 30 yards easy. But at the end of the day, it’s the score that count,” said Lam, who is by no means a short hitter.
 
Johnson, a 22-year-old from Florida, shot three birdies against a lone bogey to move up the leaderboard on 141. Although it is his first time to Asia, he is feeling right at home in Bangkok.
 
“I grew up on these sort of stuff (grainy greens) and it’s very refreshing. My goal this year is to give myself an opportunity to play into the final groups and just learn and grow as a professional golfer. I’ve got no expectations. I have put myself in a good position and if I don’t pull it off, the experience will be good enough for me,” said Johnson, who was a semi-finalist in the 2008 US Amateur Public Links Championship.
 
Defending champion James Kamte of South Africa shot a second straight 73 to make the halfway cut right on the 146 mark, which saw 69 players progressing into the weekend rounds.

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