SMBC Singapore Open 2018

Chapchai's back in swing of things

After losing his Asian Tour card with a 106th-spot finish in last year's Order of Merit, Chapchai Nirat wants a good start to 2018.
After losing his Asian Tour card with a 106th-spot finish in last year's Order of Merit, Chapchai Nirat wants a good start to 2018.PHOTO: ASIAN TOUR

Thai golfer, looking to break out of rut, sinks 7 birdies for clubhouse lead as play halted again

Mired in of one of the worst slumps since he turned professional in 1998, the seven-under 64 Chapchai Nirat shot yesterday to grab the clubhouse lead in the SMBC Singapore Open was vindication of his refusal to allow his wretched form to defeat him.

The 34-year-old Thai recorded seven birdies on a blemish-free scorecard and was on seven-under 135, a stroke clear of compatriot Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (70) and South African Shaun Norris (67) at the US$1 million (S$1.32 million) event.

Chapchai, who missed 13 cuts last season which has led to his current and career worst world ranking of 805, said: "I am so happy and excited to be on top of the leaderboard. I haven't felt this way on the golf course for so long, at least three years."

The four-time Asian Tour winner - his last victory coming in the 2014 Selangor Masters - finished 106th last year on the Order of Merit with US$16,050 (S$21,175) in prize money and lost his Tour card as a result. To put that in perspective, he earned at least US$100,000 a season from 2005 to 2016.

His struggles became the fuel to push himself even harder. He spent the off-season back home working on his backswing. He said: "The feeling was very good today (with the new swing). My coach told me... if you can do it in practice, you can also do it on the golf course."

The technical improvements were evident as he missed just three greens in regulation and took apart the 7,398 yard, par-71 Serapong Course.

Reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia and American rookie Kurt Kitayama were also at six under but were part of the afternoon flights unable to complete their rounds after lightning stopped play at the Sentosa Golf Club at 4.42pm.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

The feeling was very good today (with the new swing). My coach told me... if you can do it in practice, you can also do it on the golf course.

CHAPCHAI NIRAT, on not having had such a good day in the office for a few years.

Play resumes at 7.40am today, with the third round slated to begin after noon.

Norris had more to be pleased about than just being able to sleep in. This was the 35-year-old's third appearance at the event and the first time he has made the cut.

A two-time Tour winner, he said: "I've learned a lot over the last couple of years getting to know the course so I'm pretty happy. I was trying to play the course too aggressively and this isn't a course you can do that. You can't overpower it or anything so today I started playing smarter golf, sometimes just taking the par and leaving it at that."

In the face of lengthy rain delays and a demanding course, patience was key, said Tirawat.

  • 2ND RD: SELECTED EARLY SCORES 

  • (78 players yet to complete weather-disrupted round)

  • 135 Chapchai Nirat (Tha) 71 64

  • 136 Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (Tha) 66 70, Shaun Norris (Rsa) 69 67

  • 137 Shiv Kapur (Ind) 70 67, Jarin Todd (USA) 71 66

  • 138 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 66 72

  • 139 Choo Tze Huang (Sgp) 70 69

  • 140 a-Jesse Yap (Sgp) 68 72

  • 142 Koh Deng Shan (Sgp) 70 72, Pat Perez (USA) 70 72

  • 149 Johnson Poh (Sgp) 74 75

  • 152 Mardan Mamat (Sgp) 74 78

  • 154 a-Marc Ong (Sgp) 73 81

  • 156 a-Joshua Shou (Sgp) 78 78

The 28-year-old added: "I managed only two birdies today, but it was my plan to play like this, not too aggressive. My plan in the next two rounds is to try to finish each round with at least two-under-par."

A further stroke back on 137 were India's Shiv Kapur (67) and American Jarin Todd (66).

Kapur started with six birdies from his first 10 holes but "lost my way" after that with three bogeys. He said: "It's a tough course and there is no let-up here. You hit one or two bad shots and it gets you."

SEE ALSO C15


SINGAPORE OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Chapchai's back in swing of things'. Print Edition | Subscribe