Thailand's Chapchai Claims Maiden Win at Tcl Classic

Sun 18 Mar 2007

Thailand's Chapchai Claims Maiden Win at Tcl Classic

Sanya, China, March 18: Chapchai Nirat completed a dominant start-to-finish victory at the TCL Classic on Sunday, becoming the third Thai to win a tournament co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

The 23-year-old, who led the US$1 million event from the opening day after smashing the course record with a 61, signed off with a one-under-par 71 at Yalong Bay Golf Club and finished three shots clear of Argentinean Rafael Echenique, who closed with a 68.

Chapchai totalled 22-under-par 266 for the week and later dedicated his career breakthrough triumph in Asia to his parents, who have backed his career so diligently since he turned professional at a tender age of 15.

Prayad Marksaeng made it a memorable day for Thailand by finishing third after a 67 which consisted of seven birdies while Liang Wen-chong, winner of the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters last week, was China's top performer when he came in equal sixth, seven shots behind the winner after a 70.

"There was pressure today. I was nervous but I talked to my caddie (Manop Santhiap) and we stuck to our game plan just as we have done so for the past three days," said Chapchai, who joins compatriots Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant as winners of a co-sanctioned tournament.

"This is my first win in a big event and I want to give it to my parents."

The big-hitting Chapchai led by five strokes going into the final round and was never really threatened by the chasing pack. Echenique, a graduate from the European Tour's Challenge Tour, was Chapchai's chief rival, closing to within three strokes after turning in 33.

The Argentinean could have piled on more pressure on the young Thai going down the stretch but agonisingly missed birdie chances from inside eight feet on the 13th and 14th holes.

"I couldn?t put the pressure on because I missed many putts. But my long game was very good. I hit a lot of fairways and greens. The putting was not so good, but all in all, it?s okay," he said.

"I played great this week. I think today was the best day that I hit the ball, but I missed a lot of putts. But that?s golf. I?m very happy with my performance because I?m just starting on the European Tour so this is a very good experience for me."

Chapchai steered a steady ship all day, holing a two-putt birdie on the par five ninth hole before giving the shot back at the next. However, a superb 20-foot birdie coversion at the par three 240 yard 15th hole proved to be decisive as it gave him a comfortable four-shot cushion playing the last three holes which he parred home comfortably.

Despite his big lead, Chapchai said he needed to be on his toes, especially with Echenique making a run. "On the back nine, I knew it was getting close. I had to avoid making mistakes but I knew I could do it. I'm very happy," said Chapchai.

The burly Thai will take up membership with the European Tour where he will be exempted until the end of 2009. "Absolutely, I will join the European Tour. This victory means a lot to me. I would like to gain more experience playing on both the Asian Tour and European Tour. And I will certainly head to Europe and play there as well," said Chapchai.

It was the third straight co-sanctioned victory by an Asian Tour member following wins by South African Anton Haig and Liang in the Johnnie Walker Classic and in Singapore over the last two weeks.

Leading final scores

266 - Chapchai Nirat (THA) 61-66-68-71

269 - Rafael Echenique (ARG) 64-69-68-68

271 - Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 71-68-65-67

272 - Simon Nash (AUS) 67-66-71-68, James Heath (ENG) 72-63-68-69

273 - David Bransdon (AUS) 67-66-74-66, Liang Wen-chong (CHN) 69-68-66-70, Taichi Teshima (JPN) 69-65-66-73

274 - Marc Warren (SCO) 70-67-70-67, Peter Fowler (AUS) 69-68-68-69, Pelle Edberg (SWE) 71-64-69-70, Lee Westwood (ENG) 66-70-68-70

275 - Nick Dougherty (ENG) 69-66-69-71, Kane Webber (AUS) 67-71-66-71, Oliver Fisher (ENG) 67-69-67-72, Miles Tunnicliff (ENG) 70-65-65-75

276 - Francois Delamontagne (FRA) 73-62-70-71, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 69-68-68-71, Ashley Hall (AUS) 67-69-69-71, Adam Blyth (AUS) 67-66-70-73

277 - Scott Strange (AUS) 69-69-70-69, Scott Barr (AUS) 69-68-71-69, Chawalit Plaphol (THA) 68-69-70-70, Brad Kennedy (AUS) 67-67-69-74

278 - Mardan Mamat (SIN) 68-70-72-68, Stephen Scahill (NZL) 71-68-71-68, Birgir Hafthorsson (ICE) 68-70-72-68, Gaurav Ghei (IND) 70-69-68-71, Patrik Sjoland (SWE) 69-69-69-71, Carl Suneson (ESP) 66-68-72-72, Richard Lee (NZL) 65-70-70-73, Iain Steel (MAS) 71-68-67-72, Gary Rusnak (USA) 67-70-67-74