Yangon, February 14: Thongchai Jaidee’s love-affair with the US$200,000 Myanmar Open continued to blossom today when he took over as the third round leader after a spectacular six-under-par 66 today.
The former Thai paratrooper was in sparkling form as he hit 17 greens in regulation which yielded seven birdies, including four on the inward nine at the tree-lined Yangon Golf Club. His outstanding display won over the hearts of local spectators on Valentine’s Day.
Thongchai has a three-day total of nine-under-par 207, one shot better than American Andrew Pitts, who carded a 68. Overnight leader Alistair Presnell of Australia scrambled to a 70 to lie a further shot back on 209 while Myanmar’s Aung Win rolled in a birdie at the last for a 71 for tied fourth place with first day leader Mo Joong-kyung of Korea, four off the lead.
“Myanmar has really been good to me. I always feel like I’m playing on my home course,” said Thongchai, who is Asia’s top career money earner with US$1.13 million. “I’m confident of winning tomorrow. I played really nicely today and hit a lot of irons close to the flag for birdies.”
After a stellar amateur career, Thongchai’s first professional event was at the 1999 Myanmar Open where he finished tied fifth. It was the start of a spectacular career which amongst his many achievements include a victory in the Myanmar Open in 2002 and a runner-up outing last season.
The Thai, Asia’s number one in 2001, started the round two strokes off the lead but he sounded his intentions with an opening birdie before dropping a bogey with a three putt on the fourth. But he turned on his style with birdies on seven and nine before picking up further shots on all the par threes and par fives on his homeward stretch.
“On this course, you need to be thinking your way around. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’m going to keep doing the same and try to hit fairways and greens regularly,” said Thongchai, who arrived here on the back of a tied fourth finish at the recent Johnnie Walker Classic on home soil.
Pitts said he wasn’t surprised to see Thongchai’s name etched at the top of the leaderboard. “To shoot a 66 is a good score here,” said the American, who is bidding for his first title since the 2001 Taiwan Open.
“I’m not surprised to see Thongchai leading as he’s been the best Asian player for the last few years. I’m hoping to produce my best again tomorrow but if he also does the same, I cannot do much more,” he added.
A 30-foot birdie putt on the fourth got Pitts” round going and he turned in 33 with further birdies on the sixth and ninth holes. He bogeyed the par three 11 after missing the green but recovered strongly, holing a 14-footer on 14 and chipping close at the par five 17 for a tap-in birdie.
Overnight leader Presnell struggled on another stifling day, hitting only 10
greens in regulation. However the 23-year-old Australian rookie made some
gutsy par saves to keep himself firmly in the hunt.
“I didn’t play all that good. I need to go to the range to sort out my alignment,” said Presnell, who is overcoming the tragic death of his father after caddying duties at the Asian Qualifying School last month.
“I was a bit nervous early on and got a bit fatigued as well. But two shots back isn’t much, it’s just a birdie against a bogey. I’m going to go out and attack again and try to hit more greens.”
Myanmar’s wait for a first local winner in the event was left on tenterhooks as home favourite Win ended the day four back of Thongchai. He rued many missed putts early on in his round and needed to drain a 15-foot putt at the last hole to keep him in the title frame.
“I just kept missing birdie putts from close range. It was frustrating and I had to try hard to keep my patience. It could have been a lot better than a 71 but I’m not giving up hope yet. If I can shoot a 65 in the final round, I might just do it. I’ve scored a few 65s on this course previously in practice rounds, so hopefully I can do it when it matters the most,” said Win, who was sixth in 2002 and third last year.
Leading third round scores
207 – Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 69-72-66
208 – Andrew Pitts (USA) 69-71-68
209 – Alistair Presnell (AUS) 68-71-70
211 – Mo Joong-kyung (KOR) 67-74-70, Aung Win (MYN) 71-69-71
212 – Anthony Kang (USA) 72-70-70
213 – Lee Sung-man (KOR) 71-75-67, Chen Tsang-te (TPE) 75-69-69, Lin Wen-tang (TPE) 73-69-71
214 – Mardan Mamat (SIN) 73-71-70, Mike Cunning (USA) 72-71-71, Akinori Tani (JPN) 69-73-72, Yoshinobu Tsukada (JPN) 71-70-73, Unho Park (AUS) 70-71-73
215 – Greg Hanrahan (USA) 72-72-71, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 69-74-72, Glenn Joyner (AUS) 72-70-73
216 – Chen Tze-chung (TPE) 74-74-68, Edward Loar (USA) 76-71-69, Charlie Wi (KOR) 71-74-71, Danny Zarate (PHI) 76-69-71, Lin Wen-ko (TPE) 69-75-72, James Stewart (HKG) 72-72-72, Ashok Kumar (IND) 70-74-72, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 71-72-73
217 – Terry Pilkadaris (AUS) 75-71-71, Frankie Minoza (PHI) 72-73-72, Rahil Gangjee (IND) 70-75-72, David Gleeson (AUS) 72-69-76
About the Myanmar Open:
The Myanmar Open is celebrating its ninth year in 2004. Event sponsors include Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar Pte. Limited, co-sponsor Myanmar Airways International, Sedona Hotel Yangon, the official hotel of the Myanmar Open, Wilson, the official ball, and Grand Slam (Munsingwear), Inetol (Headwear Company), Canon (Accel International Co. Ltd.), Maruman (Kaung Myat Co. Ltd), Dagon Beer (Dagon Brewery Company Limited), MIMS LOGISTICS, Max Myanmar Co. Ltd., United Paints Group (UPG) and Alpine Purified Drinking Water (Loi Hein Co. Ltd.) as official suppliers.