Thai Atiruj takes control at Faldo Series Asia Grand Final
Shenzhen, China (March 3): Atiruj Winaicharoenchai delivered a spectacular birdie barrage to race to the top of the leaderboard after the second round of the 10th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final.
Capitalising on a succession of high quality iron shots, the 15-year-old Thai converted nine birdie putts en route to a seven-under-par 65 over the acclaimed Faldo Course at Mission Hills Dongguan.
With a 36-hole aggregate of 136, Atiruj will take a four-stroke lead into Friday’s final round in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking event.
“I’ve had a 64 before, but never made nine birdies in one round,” said the plus-three handicapper, a member of the Thai national squad who qualified for his first Mission Hills final by winning the Faldo Series Thailand Championship.
Victorious also in the Boys’ 12-13 section at the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships in 2013, Atiruj is bidding to follow in the footsteps of Nakarin Ratanakul and become only the second Thai winner of the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final.
There will, he said, be no thoughts of curbing his natural instinct to attack the flags. “My approach shots have been very good this week and I’ll just aim to do the same tomorrow. I’m feeling quite confident,” he added.
Also in buoyant mood is Indian Arjun Prasad who followed up his opening 69 with a 71 to lie second.
“I’ll just continue to play the way I am. That’s what I will concentrate on. I won’t be nervous,” said Prasad, who did have butterflies in his stomach when striking shots in front of tournament host Sir Nick Faldo, during a long-game clinic delivered by the six-time Major champion.
“It was amazing watching him hit shots, especially with a driver off the fairway. When I went up to hit some balls, my heartbeat was racing. It was a memorable experience for me,” said 17-year-old Prasad, who booked his ticket to Mission Hills by winning the Faldo Series India Championship in a sudden-death play-off.
Joining Atiruj and Prasad in the final flight for the last day is Nasa Hataoka, who carded a 69 but finds herself trailing the leader by five.
One of Asia’s brightest female prospects, Hataoka, who turned 17 last month and has a plus-five handicap, has risen to 60th in the WAGR. She is attempting to become the fourth Japanese winner in the past five years and the first girl to capture the overall title at the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final.
Nine shots off the pace in joint fourth place are Jack Yule and Leon D’Souza. While England’s Yule returned an accomplished, bogey-free 66, overnight leader D’Souza, from Hong Kong, could only manage a 77.
On a day when breezy conditions made club selection tricky, Atiruj was masterful, racing out of the blocks with three birdies in his first five holes.
A bogey at six proved only a temporary setback as he made further gains at the seventh and eighth, where he holed from 25 feet, his longest putt of the day.
Having reached the turn in four-under 32, Atiruj picked up shots at the 10th and 13th to move into the lead. His second bogey of the day at 14 served only to inspire him to finish strongly and he duly rolled home birdie putts at the short 16th and par-five 18th to take a stranglehold on the tournament.
As well as receiving the Faldo Series Asia trophy, the overall winner will be granted an exemption into an Asian Tour event. The Girls’ winner will be given a start in a Ladies European Tour event.
Both will also earn themselves a trip to compete in this year’s Faldo Series Europe Grand Final.
Meanwhile, China-based players are vying for the Mission Hills Trophy, awarded to the leading golfer from the People’s Republic.
Supported by The R&A and Mission Hills and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the 2015-16 Faldo Series Asia campaign stretched over 11 months and was made up of 21 events in 17 countries including, for the first time, Australia.
Recognised as the only global amateur series for boys and girls, the Faldo Series was established in 1996, expanding to Asia in 2006.
Today, 40 Faldo Series tournaments take place in 30-plus countries worldwide, touching more than 7,000 golfers each year. Past winners include multiple Major champions Tseng Ya-ni and Rory McIlroy.
Leading second-round scores:
136 – Atiruj Winaicharoenchai (THA) 71-65
140 – Arjun Prasad (IND) 69-71
141 – Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 72-69
145 – Jack Yule (ENG) 79-66, Leon D'Souza (HKG) 68-77
146 – Sam Nashaar (AUS) 73-73
147 – Dario Antonisse (NED) 73-74
148 – Shubham Narain (IND) 79-69, Ibuki Yoshida (JPN) 77-71, Ma Shouneng (CHN) 73-75, Harry Goddard (ENG) 72-76, Tom Parker (NZL) 71-77, Hosho Takahashi (JPN) 76-72, Jordan Garner (AUS) 74-74, Inez Beatrice Wanamarta (INA) 74-74