Thongchai and Hend one off the lead at Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Fri 25 Jan 2019

Thongchai and Hend one off the lead at Omega Dubai Desert Classic

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V Krishnaswamy in Dubai

Dubai, January 25: Two of Asian Tour’s biggest stars, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Australia’s Scott Hend, were among the eight players who were one shot behind the leader, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick at the end of the first round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

For the most part of the day, the leaders stood at six-under 66 till Fitzpatrick blazed through the back nine with six birdies, four of them on his last four holes for a 65 and lead by one at the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club.

On an extremely low scoring day no less than 74 players were under-par, and another 15 players shot par.

Thongchai, playing his 19th Desert Classic in a row, had his best-ever start at the event with a  66. It could have been even better but for the double bogey on his closing hole.

The all-time money leader on Asian Tour and the only player to win the Tour’s Order of Merit three times (2001, 2004 and 2009), seemed to be finding birdies in pairs as he gained shots on second and third, sixth and seventh and 10th and 11th. He added more on 13th and 17th before being hit by the double bogey.

Thongchai, who hits 50 in November, has won 13 times on the Asian Tour and eight times on the European Tour. His last win came on the European Tour in France in 2016.

The Thai veteran chose to shoot his best-ever in the Dubai Classic on the same day as the Asian Tour announcing the fourth staging of his Thongchai Jaidee Foundation 2019 event on the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

Thongchai admitted, “I didn't play well last year. Putting was not great, but this week I think I am more confident. My putting is getting better.”

He added, “The feeling is good. Today I had a lot of good putts, and I think we hit only nine greens today but didn't find many fairways. I did make a lot of good up-and-downs as well.

“(About the double bogey) We planned on hitting a good lay-up, but the wind just was not strong enough. I tried to hit it easy and unfortunately went into the water hazard.”

The Thai’s best finish in Dubai has been third in 2010 and his previous best start here was 67, which he has shot four times, including twice in 2004, when he was fourth. He has missed the cut here only three times and has three Top-10s.

Hend equaled his best score of 66 in his opening round, which he shot in the second round last year. He birdied his first and third but gave the gains back with bogeys on fifth and sixth. Thereafter he could make no mistake. He birdied the seventh and was on fire on back with five more birdies.

Among other Asian Tour players, Australia’s Wade Ormsby (67) was tied-10th after being six-under through 16 holes, while Asian Tour’s honorary member and 2019 Presidents Cup captain, Ernie Els was 68 and tied-19th.

South Africa’s Justin Harding and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai were tied-44th after matching 70s while Malaysia’s Gavin Green along with Indian duo Gaganjeet Bhullar and Shubhankar Sharma all posted 71 to sit on tied-60th.

Also on tied-60th was American Kurt Kitayama (71), who had three birdies and a double bogey. S.S.P. Chawrasia of India (72), three-over at one stage, fought back to get to even par with three birdies in last five holes.

Korea’s Jeunghun Wang carded 72 to take tied-75th and American David Lipsky struggled to a 74.

Ends.