Unlikely duo near the top

Above:A distraught Kiradech Aphibarnrat aims to win the WGC-HSBC Champions trophy in honour of the late Thai king. Left: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan blasting out from a bunker during the first round in Shanghai yesterday. The world No. 4 had a horrible
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan blasting out from a bunker during the first round in Shanghai yesterday. The world No. 4 had a horrible start to his title defence with a two-over 74.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Green, with dad as caddie, and emotional Kiradech trail Koepka

SHANGHAI • Two Asians found themselves at the sharp end of the leaderboard at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai yesterday - they just were not the ones most were expecting.

As Japan's Hideki Matsuyama endured a nightmare opening to his title defence, carding a two-over 74 that left him in 67th place, Malaysian Gavin Green and Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat upstaged a host of bigger names.

World No. 166 Green is joint-second alongside Kiradech, one shot behind US Open champion Brooks Koepka, who seized the first-round lead with a 64.

Green went bogey-free in his first taste of a prestigious World Golf Championship (WGC) while Kiradech battled his emotions to put on one of the best rounds of his life.

"Just going to try and enjoy my first WGC. Dad's on the bag, so we're just going to enjoy it and stick to the game plan," said Green, 23, the 2013 SEA Games runner-up who turned professional in 2015.

Kiradech, meanwhile, fought back tears on the day of the Thai King's funeral and went on a magical run of seven birdies on the spin.

The 28-year-old, a three-time winner on the European Tour, pulled off the feat just as thousands of black-clad mourners massed across Bangkok's historic heart to bid farewell to the beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October last year.


Above: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan blasting out from a bunker during the first round in Shanghai yesterday. The world No. 4 had a horrible start to his title
defence with a two-over 74. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The world No. 103 was also dressed all in black and, with tears in his eyes, said: "It's not a good day, we are remembering our king who passed away nearly one year ago. It's very upsetting in our country.

"Our king will be forever in our hearts, but the show must go on and I need to keep doing my job and, hopefully, I will take the trophy home for our king."

Koepka could have a say in that after putting together a round that included seven birdies and an eagle at the Sheshan Golf Club. Starting his round at the 10th hole, the 27-year-old rolled in a 21-foot putt for eagle on the par-five 18th. He then made birdie from a water hazard on the par-five eighth.

"I think I played really well, putted very well," he said after his first hit-out of the new season.

"I feel like I started really well, drove it really well. Any time you're making putts... you're going to shoot good."

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson also had a solid day. The American, who is chasing his third WGC title of this year, is tied 11th on 68 in his season-opener.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Unlikely duo near the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe