Panuphol sets sight on career-changing victory

Panuphol Pittayarat with father Chinnawat on the bag / © Asian Tour

Shah Alam: Thailand’s rising hotshot Panuphol Pittayarat rode on a hot putter to open up a two-shot lead after the third round of the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters today.

The 18-year-old needed only 24 putts on a sun-baked Kota Permai Golf and Country Club en-route to an impressive five-under-par 67 to lead from 2007 Selangor Masters champion Antonio Lascuna of the Philippines, who surged into contention with a flawless 66.

Australian Adam Groom (66) and Finland’s Joonas Granberg (70), who set a new course record 62 in the opening round, were a further two strokes back in tied third place in the RM1.2 million (approximately US$400,00) Asian Tour event.

Malaysia’s S. Siva Chandhran climbed up the leaderboard with a solid 67 to share fifth place, five behind the leader, with compatriot Nicholas Fung, Thai veteran Thaworn Wiratchant, Australian Kieran Pratt and Bangladeshi Siddikur.

The story of the day belonged once again to Panuphol as the overnight leader showed maturity beyond his young age to widen his lead. With his father Chinnawat on caddying duty, he sizzled on the greens, holing his seventh birdie of the day at the last hole from 25 feet to lead on 13-under-par 203.

“I was putting great. My putter is on fire the past two days. The putt on 18, I didn’t see that coming. It was a no-thought putt. You could see I just pressed and putted. Luckily it rolled into the hole,” said Panuphol, who is nicknamed ‘Coconut’.

The young Thai, who turned professional as a 14 year old as he didn’t enjoy school, credited his father’s influence for his impressive display thus far. “He’s good with lines and he helps me think a lot out there. It’s a big help. He’s one of the best and I want to give him this (win),” said Panuphol.

”It would change my life. I’ve struggled at beginning of the season but I had a big week last week, practiced hard and it is paying off. Today was a big difference. This is my best ever third round. Normally after two good rounds, I would push myself to get up (the leaderboard) but today, I just went out there and told myself I’m going to play on my own, stick to my routine, finish every swing and concentrate. Whatever happens tomorrow, I’ll just take it.”

Lascuna, who is 22 years older than Panuphol, enjoyed a chip-in birdie from 20 yards on the fourth hole and nailed a monster 75-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole as he gave himself a chance of a maiden Asian Tour victory with his 205 total. When he won the Selangor title four years ago, it was a local Malaysian event.

“I’ve won this tournament before, so I feel good vibes when I’m playing in Malaysia. I haven’t won any title on the Asian Tour and I’m going to go out there to try and win tomorrow,” said Lascuna.

“I haven’t played very well over the past few years because my driving has been inconsistent. When you can’t hit fairways, it is difficult to shoot birdies,” added the 40-year-old.

Groom surprised even himself when he soared up the leaderboard with an eagle on the last hole where a glorious five wood approach landed five feet from the pin, which was tucked just behind the greenside bunkers.

“It was a great way to end my round. I was expecting to finish with a birdie but getting an eagle is a bonus. It has been good week so far. It has been a while since I’ve been in contention and I’m looking forward to it. It will be nice to get a win,” said Groom, whose last top-10 on the Asian Tour was in 2008.

Local hope Siva knows he has an uphill task in his attempt to become the second Malaysian after Ben Leong to win the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters. He shot six birdies, including on three of the four par fives.

“I had several birdie opportunities on my back nine but overall it was a good round. I was struggling with the weather in the last two days and the rain delays hampered my rhythm. The conditions were much better today,” said Siva, who won on the PGM Melaka Classic on the Asian Development Tour in June.

“I’m going to go out there to do my best. I do not have any specific target. I’m not thinking of winning at all. It will be just me against the golf course tomorrow,” he said.

Airil Rizman (73), who started the third round in sixth place, slipped back to tied 19th place with Ben Leong (71) and Sukree Othman (70) on a 211 total. – www.asiantour.com

Leading third round scores
203 – Panuphol Pittayarat (THA) 71-65-67.
205 – Antonio Lascuna (PHI) 70-69-66.
207 – Adam Groom (AUS) 68-73-66, Joonas Granberg (FIN) 62-75-70.
208 – S. Sivachandhran (MAS) 72-69-67, Nicholas Fung (MAS) 72-70-66, Kieran Pratt (AUS) 70-70-68, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 71-68-69, Siddikur  (BAN) 68-70-70.
209 – Ross Bain (SCO) 70-71-68, Rashid Khan (IND) 69-71-69, Tjaart Van Der Walt (RSA) 65-74-70, Chang Tse-peng (TPE) 72-66-71, Marcus Both (AUS) 70-67-72, Panuwat Muenlek (THA) 68-69-72