SINGAPORE - With a combined world ranking of 1,411, Ok Tae-hoon and Suradit Yongcharoenchai are the first round leaders of the SMBC Singapore Open no one would have predicted.
Both 23-year-olds shot matching five-under 66s on Thursday (Jan 20) but in contrasting styles. South Korean Ok’s round included two stunning eagles on the par-fives No. 4 and No. 7 while his Thai co-frontrunner’s scorecard was no less impressive – five birdies without a bogey.
They shared the clubhouse lead at the Sentosa Golf Club, one clear of Thai Sadom Kaewkanjana, American Sihwan Kim and Justin De Los Santos of the Philippines.
Play was suspended at 5.16pm due to lightning with 52 golfers in the 130-player field forced to finish their opening round on Friday morning.
The US$1.25 million (S$1.69 million) tournament is the season-finale of the pandemic-delayed Asian Tour’s 2019-2022 campaign.
World No. 567 Ok struggled at last week’s Singapore International at Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC), finishing 11-over after 36 holes and missing the cut. He spent the extra time off practising and was rewarded for his diligence.
Ok, a professional for five years who secured the final Asian Tour card at the circuit’s 2020 qualifying school, said: “After last year, I was trying to fix my swing but it wasn’t going too well.
“But this time I’m feeling pretty good so I’m just going to do my best.”
Unlike Ok, Suradit has won on the Asian Tour – he bagged the 2019 Mercuries Taiwan Masters – and finished fourth that year on the Tour’s money list but has failed to reach such heights again.
The world No. 844 missed the cut 14 times in 22 starts last year on the European Tour and All Thailand Golf Tour. He said competing in Europe was a tough experience but felt his game has benefited from it.
He added: “Coming back to play on the Asian Tour feels good, it feels like home. I hope I’m a stronger player this year.”
The Asian Tour’s Order of Merit leader Kim Joo-hyung, winner of the Singapore International, came in with a 68 in joint-sixth in a big group that included Thailand teen prodigy Ratchanon Chantananuwat, 14, and Singapore’s Jesse Yap.
Kim, 19, said: “I stayed patient today. It wasn’t looking great until the back nine started but after that par five (he eagled the 606-yard fourth hole), I turned on the engine and kept getting good shots at the right time and hit a lot of good putts.
“If you told me that if I was going to be minus-three, I would have taken it.”
What England’s Paul Casey would have given for a similar score. The veteran, 44, at No. 27 is the highest ranked player here but had a day to forget as he opened with a 76.
It was his first competitive round after a two month break and the lack of match sharpness showed as he missed half the 14 fairways, hitting two balls into the water after wayward drives on separate holes.
For Yap, 29, who was Singapore’s top performer, home ground advantage made all the difference. He shot 12-over at TMCC and missed the weekend but at Sentosa, where he has been coaching since last April, he fired five birdies against two bogeys.
He said: “I played well, made the most of my game today even though I didn’t feel 100 per cent comfortable.
“I practise around here so pretty familiar with the shots and the greens but really tried to take a shot-by-shot focus on the things that have worked for me in the past.
“Last week maybe I tried to change too many things. So today was about going back to basics, just working on what has worked for me in the past.”
Selected second round tee times
8.20am Suradit Yongcharoenchai (Tha)
8.30am Yosuke Asaji (Jpn), Ratchanon Chantananuwat (Tha), Paul Casey (Eng)
9.10am Jeev Milkha Singh (Ind), Zaw Moe (Mya), Mardan Mamat (Sgp)
1pm Nicklaus Chiam (Sgp)
1.20pm Jesse Yap (Sgp), Sihwan Kim (USA)
1pm Sadom Kaewkanjana (Tha)
1.10pm Mikiya Akutsu (Jpn), Chan Shih-chang (Tpe), Kim Joo-hyung (Kor)
1.20pm Gavin Green (Mas), Yuwa Kosaihira (Jpn), Berry Henson (USA)
2.10pm Kosuke Hamamoto (Tha), Masanori Kobayashi (Jpn), Justin De Los Santos (Phi)
Friday, Day 2 on StarHub Ch204 from 1pm