Unfancied Thai catches eye with late show to claim lead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am

A late charge by little-known Thai Udorn Duangdecha earned him the first-day honours and a one-stroke lead at the UBS Hong Kong Open, which got off to a scorching start yesterday.

Udorn, who has never registered on the Asian Tour's radar since he turned professional nine years ago, stole the limelight and it was not because he was wearing colourful psychedelic trousers that made Englishman Ian Poulter's slacks look as boring as those of an undertaker's.

'I was not surprised by how I played because everything went according to my game plan. I was confident and I could have gone better if not for missing a birdie putt at my last hole because of the bad light,' said the Thai as he shot a magnificent eight-under-par 62.

Udorn was on course to tie the Composite Course record of nine under 61 set by Scotland's Simon Yates in 2005 going into his last hole, but dropped a shot at the par-four ninth after three-putting.

'It would have been great to have tied the course record, but still I'm very happy with my performance,' Udorn, 39, who hails from Chiang Mai, said.

His startling rise from anonymity to fame was borne on a remarkable birdie blitz that included five consecutive holes - from the 17th to the 3rd (he started on the 10th tee).

In total Udorn rolled in 10 birdies, offset by two bogey blemishes.

Yet it was still enough to leave him all alone and at the top of a field that includes three major winners - this year's US PGA champion Yang Yong-eun, and former British Open winners Mark O'Meara and Ben Curtis - as well as an illustrious field of European Tour heavyweights, among them the leading money-winners Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. Robert-Jan Derksen of the Netherlands, who carded a seven-under 63, was in second position a shot behind Udorn, while a group of four, including Taiwan's defending champion Lin Wen-tang, were two shots adrift on 64.

Lin, despite feeling unwell, was still able to perform as he shot a solid first round to boost his chances of becoming only the second person to successfully defend the title at Fanling. 'I've got some sinus problems and was feeling a little bit under the weather. Maybe that's why I missed several putts today, but I'm very pleased with this solid start,' Lin said after beginning his campaign with a bogey-free round.

Alongside Lin on 64 were Gregory Bourdy of France, England's David Dixon and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, while one shot further back, on 65, was a group of nine players including American Curtis and South African duo Charl Schwartzel and Rory Sabbatini.

The other Rory - Rory McIlroy - was also well-placed, shooting a 66, which was matched by his rival in The Race to Dubai, England's Westwood. South Korean Yang, China number-one Liang Wenchong and O'Meara were also in this company as the field was tantalisingly poised going into the second round.

Only one other person in the past 50 years has won back-to-back titles - Taiwan's Hsieh Yung-yo, who was victorious in 1963 and 1964.

Hsieh's compatriot, Lin, who won last year's tournament after holding off Northern Ireland's McIlroy and Italian Francesco Molinari in a dramatic shoot-out, believes that he can be victorious despite carrying the burden of defending champion.

'I'll be lying if I say there's no pressure. We're professional sportsmen and we all play to win,' Lin said.

'If you don't win, then second place or a last-place finish doesn't really matter. I hope to maintain my form, stay focused and play well over the next three days.'

Starting at the 10th tee, Lin got off to the best start possible when he birdied the opening two holes.

He had a few more chances, but could add only one more before the halfway mark, and then collected another three birdies on the home stretch.

'The opening two birdies got the momentum going and gave me the confidence to go on and play well,' Lin said. 'My swings and putts were almost perfect, and I'm hoping it stays this way for the rest of the week.'