Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant took his familiar place at the top of the leaderboard after a rain-hit opening round at the Crowne Plaza Open yesterday.
Thaworn, currently leading the Asian Tour Order of Merit, battled to a three-under-par 69 at Grand Epoch City Golf Club for a one-stroke clubhouse lead over China's upcoming star Li Chao, who carded a 70. It was a tough opening day marred by persistent showers, which caused a one-hour suspension early in the morning. As a result, a total of 45 players will return early today to complete the first round.
Thailand's Prom Meesawat, Filipino Gerald Rosales and Hong Kong's James Stewart carded 71 in the US$200,000 event to remain close to the lead but the day once again belonged to Thaworn, winner of the Taiwan Open two weeks ago and the Indonesia Open in March.
The Thai carded two opening bogeys but bounced back strongly with six birdies and one bogey over his last 10 holes. 'We're playing on tough course this week and the rain made it so much harder this morning. I didn't have the best of starts but I came back nicely. To shoot a 69 is very good and I'm happy,' said Thaworn.
A tap-in birdie on the par-five ninth set him on his way to recovery before he drained an 18-footer on the 10th for another birdie. He carded a bogey on the 12th but lit up the course with a 15-foot birdie on the 13th, a 30-footer on the 15th, a chip-in birdie on the 16th and another birdie at the 17th from 18 feet.
'My putting was on. It was a good strong finish to the round and I did get lucky on 16 with that chip-in. I drove it 30 yards wide of the fairway but made a lucky recovery,' said Thaworn.
The event lost its top draw, Zhang Lianwei of China, who withdrew before the start of his round due to a bout of flu. But youngster Li Chao led the local brigade with a battling round that included five birdies.
The 24-year-old Li has shown signs of maturity in his game in recent months. He won a China Tour event and finished tied ninth at the China Masters earlier this month where he was showered with praise by US Open champion Michael Campbell.
The Beijing-born Li dropped shots on the first and third holes but fought back with five birdies. A late stutter on the 18th for a bogey denied him a share of the lead with Thaworn.
India's Digvijay Singh was two under for his round through 12 holes while Stewart, Rosales and Meesawat enjoyed the slightly better half of the weather by completing their opening rounds and staying within striking distance of the early lead.