Changhwa, Chinese Taipei, December 26: Thailand’s Donlaphatchai Niyomchon rode a hot putter to sign for an opening five-under-par 67 at the Taifong Open, grabbing a one-shot lead at the season-ending US$160,000 Asian Development Tour (ADT) event on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Thai, who had made only a single cut in his last five starts at the popular event, exceeded his expectations when he returned with an eagle and seven birdies against four bogeys to take his place atop the leaderboard at the Taifong Golf Club.
Buoyed by the comforts of playing on his home course, David Shen of Chinese Taipei holed out for a closing eagle to share second place with tournament debutant Wolmer Murillo of Venezuela on matching 68s in the 2019 ADT season finale.
Thai hotshot Itthipat Buranatanyarat, who sits in third place on the ADT Order of Merit, kept up his chase for the Order of Merit crown by posting a 69 to trail by two shots in fourth place at the event, which is celebrating its sixth consecutive edition on the ADT this week.
“I putted really well today. I think that was what made the difference today. It’s the best round I have ever shot on this course. I am really happy,” said Donlaphatchai, who needed only 25 putts around the greens today.
Shen, who had holed out from 89 yards for an eagle-three on the 18th hole, is playing in his sixth appearance at the Taifong Open this week. He enjoyed a tied-13th place finish in the popular event last year.
“I was able to hit it close today. I played my irons well. Didn’t get lucky on the first three holes but started rolling putts in for birdies on fourth and fifth. Happy to finish with an eagle on the last too,” said Shen, who hails from Changhwa county.
“I putted well and I was accurate with my iron shots. I think I hit like 15 greens today. It was quite windy out there. I started off thinking I should play conservatively today but changed my strategy on a few holes and decided to hit my driver off the tee. That worked out well.
“I was mainly focusing on hitting my irons good today. This is where I practiced for the last eight years. This is my home course and I guess that gave me some advantage. Hitting it good off the tee is the key to play well here,” Shen added.
Murillo, who did not play a practice round this week, battled through a calf injury to return with a round of six birdies against two bogeys. He sits in 30th place on the money list and needs a strong finish to break inside top-seven and secure his Asian Tour card for 2020.
“It’s my first time playing here. It was quite a walk out there but I felt good. I had a calf injury from gym work last week but overall, it was a steady round although I made a couple of mistakes. It’s an interesting golf course,” said the 38-year-old Venezuelan.
“I have been working hard for the last three rounds so I’m very happy with a good round today. It was nice to see on the score card that we have two par-fives to close the round. I made a few key putts, a few long putts like the one on 18th which is probably like 25 feet,” added Murillo, a one-time winner on the ADT.
Play was suspended at 5.45pm local time due to fading light. A total of three players will resume their round at 7.30am on Friday with the second round scheduled to commence at 6.55am as per original plan.
The leading seven players, not otherwise exempted, on the final 2019 ADT Order of Merit following the conclusion of the Taifong Open on Sunday will earn their Asian Tour cards for the 2020 season.