Thaworn on fire at Kota Permai

Thaworn Wiratchant © Khalid Redza/Asian Tour

Shah Alam: Thailand’s veteran star Thaworn Wiratchant produced a master-class back nine performance as he surged into a three-shot lead after the third round of the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters on Friday.

A superb four-under-par 68, courtesy of a stunning inward 31, pushed the 45-year-old Thaworn on the cusp of a record 14th Asian Tour title at Kota Permai Golf and Country Club in the RM1.2 million (approximately US$395,000) tournament.

Swedish rookie Jesper Kennegard moved into second place after an impressive 67 while second round co-leader Michael Tran of Vietnam slipped back to third place with American Jonathan Moore, the reigning Asian Development Tour (ADT) number one, and Filipino newcomer Jhonnel Ababa. They are five shots behind leader Thaworn.

After two birdies through seven holes, Thaworn, Asia’s number one in 2005, dropped three shots on the eighth and ninth holes before fighting back in style. A 60-foot monster putt for birdie on the 10th got him back on track as he raced clear of the field.

“It was a good comeback,” beamed Thaworn, who is the highest ranked player in this week’s field and has won previously at Kota Permai.

“After the double on eight and bogey on nine, I said “I’m dead”. My heart was okay but my feeling was like I didn’t have any power. On the 10th tee, I told myself that I must come back. I was aiming for two or three under but five under, I am really happy.”

The unorthodox swinging Thaworn, who won the Queen’s Cup in June to match countryman Thongchai Jaidee for the most wins on the Asian Tour, said he got lucky with his putt on the 10th.

“I hit my second shot short, maybe 28 yards to the pin but I putted in. My game then came back. I felt good after that. I kept hitting it on, kept the ball on the fairway and kept making birdies.

“I think I have a good chance (to win). But the second or third guy can reach the par fives in two for eagle, which I can’t do. We don’t know what will happen. I will play to my strategy, aim to hit fairways but this week, I feel my putting is good,” said Thaworn, who has a three-day total of 13-under-par 203.

Big-hitting Kennegard, who came through Qualifying School in January, struck it hot early on as he sank six birdies on a steamy day at Kota Permai. What was impressive was the fact he played despite feeling under the weather.

“I got off to a really hot start. I was four-under through five holes and three putted for bogey on the sixth hole. I kind of got my putter going, then it slowed down. I played pretty solid on the back nine and could have sank more putts,” he said.

“It will be fun to play with Thaworn. I played nine holes with him during the practice round and it was fun to see his game. Hopefully I can give him a good match.”

Surprise packages Ababa and Tran stayed in the title hunt but acknowledged that Thaworn would be a hard man to catch. The 28-year-old Ababa, playing in his first year on the Asian Tour, battled to a 71 after returning early this morning to finish one hole of his second round. “If I can finish in the top-10, that would be good. I’m happy so far with this week. It’ll make me feel more confident about playing on the Asian Tour,” said Ababa.

The 22-year-old Tran endured a rollercoaster ride in a round of 73 which included one eagle, four birdies, three bogeys and one triple bogey. Despite losing his lead, he was still pleased with the way he fought.

“I actually played some of my best golf but I hit some really bad short irons. I’ll need to work on that at the range,” said Tran, who has contemplated quitting touring life after a lack of success on the region’s elite circuit.

“It was kind of hard not to think about doing well on the first nine holes. I just swung my club a bit too fast on the 16th (for the triple bogey) but it is okay. Even if I finish good or bad, this is a good experience. I put myself in the hunt for the trophy and I’m happy.”

After winning on the ADT, the region’s secondary circuit, Moore, who played for the United States in the Walker Cup, is eyeing a big win on the main Tour but knows he must wield a hot putter to catch Thaworn.

“Yesterday was 32 putts and today, I didn’t get many in. I’ve put myself in this position more this year which is good. Hopefully I can finish a little better tomorrow. I’ll just go for it. If I can convert the putts, it’ll be a great tournament for me,” said Moore.

Leading third round scores
203 – Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 66-69-68
206 – Jesper Kennegard (SWE) 70-69-67
208 – Jonathan Moore (USA) 67-71-70, Jhonnel Ababa (PHI) 68-69-71, Michael Tran (VNM) 67-68-73
209 – Lam Chih Bing (SIN) 70-70-69, Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND) 68-71-70, Kieran Pratt (AUS) 67-71-71, Javi Colomo (ESP) 68-69-72, Marcus Both (AUS) 67-69-73
210 – Siddikur (BAN) 73-71-66, Jason Knutzon (USA) 72-68-70, Panuphol Pittyarat(THA) 67-72-71