Prayad's driving ambition rewarded
SPENCER ROBINSON reports from Beijing
PRAYAD Marksaeng yesterday flew in the face of accepted golfing convention, challenging the theory that you drive for show and putt for dough.
Hitting the ball prodigious distances off the tee, but struggling with his putter, the diminutive Thai provided a stunning finale to the penultimate round of the US$400,000 Volvo China Open.
Using his sand wedge from 90 yards short of the Beijing International Golf Club's 18th green, Prayad punched the humid air with delight as his ball disappeared into the cup for an eagle-three.
It may not have been a shot that was heard across the world, but he hopes that history will recall it as the shot that set him firmly on course for victory in the second China Open and brought to an end his jinx of never having won outside his home country. 'It has to be one of the best and most important shots of my career,' said Prayad, referring to the masterstroke that gave him a third round of five-under-par 67 and a 54-hole total of 203. It also enabled him to extend his one-shot overnight lead to a healthy four strokes over Hsieh Yu-shu from Taiwan and Korea's Kim Jong-duk. With Prayad in such commanding form it would appear the only other players with any prospect of claiming the US$72,000 first prize are American Mike Cunning, Australian Rodney Pampling and Taiwan's Yuan Ching-chi, who all hold a share of fourth place on 208. Even though Prayad confessed he was not happy with his putting, he remains confident.
'I'm not going to worry about what anybody else does,' he said. 'I'm just going to concentrate on my own game. If I can shoot a 68, then I think I'll win.' However, bearing in mind Greg Norman's dramatic last-round collapse at Augusta six weeks ago when he let slip a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo to lose the US Masters by five, and his own unimpressive overseas record, Prayad would do well not to start writing a victory speech quite yet. For all his success at home where he has won a host of titles and was ranked number one in 1994, Prayad has never fulfilled his promise on foreign soil. Furthermore, it's been exactly a year since his last win of any sort, in a Thai PGA event, and he finished a disappointing 60th on the inaugural Omega Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit standings, earning just US$23,000 from 13 outings. It's not been much better in 1996.
Currently he is 57th in the rankings with less than US$6,000 to his name. However, on the evidence of his grandstand finish yesterday he can afford to put up with the odd missed putt. Forced to lay-up at the 563-yard 18th after a rare wayward drive, Prayad walked on to the slightly elevated green to check the position of the pin which was placed at the front left. 'I was just trying to get the ball close to give me a birdie putt. I couldn't see it go into the hole, but I knew it was in when I heard the cheers of 'eagle! eagle!',' he said.