Korean Kim sets pace in Phuket meet

Korean Kim sets pace in Phuket meet

Chanachok snapping at the heels of leader

Phuket: Kim Bi-O took the first-round clubhouse lead in the US$1 million Laguna Phuket Championship yesterday after shooting an exceptional eight-under-par 62, which at one point looked like going sub-60.

The Korean, who first hit global headlines over a decade ago when he qualified for the PGA Tour as a 20-year-old, made an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey at the par-70 Laguna Golf Phuket, where preferred lies were played.

It saw him finish one shot ahead of Australian Travis Smyth, whose 63, no doubt, was inspired by Kim's splendid showing in the same group, and Thailand's Chanachok Dejpiratanamongkol, who won the Phuket Open on the Asian Development Tour here in 2017.

Poor weather stopped play at 5.17pm meaning 40 players will complete their first round today. England's Steve Lewton was the best of those at five under with two to play.

Kim, whose group played the back nine first, was nine under after 13 holes and on course for an elusive 59 before realisation set in.

"Unfortunately, at the final three holes I kind of figured where I was at, so I got a little nervous," said the Asian Tour qualifying school graduate from last year.

"My form is in very good shape. I putted well, I'm hitting it good, I am capitalising on the chances. So hopefully in the next couple of rounds I will keep going, and maybe at the end hold something."

Kim, who finished joint fourth in last week's Blue Canyon Phuket Championship, claimed the LG Signature Players Championship on the Korean PGA Tour at the beginning of last month. It was the sixth victory on home soil for the 31-year-old, who has been playing in South Korea since 2014.

Smyth, who came 10th last week, was able to build on that momentum today.

"I'm playing really good golf right now," said Smyth, who like Kim is looking for his first win on the Asian Tour.

"[I'm] holing more putts than I normally would, around the 15 to 25-foot range. I'm hitting it fairly straight on this tight course and taking advantage of the par fives."

He birdied two of his last three holes to edge closer to Kim.

Chanachok, who carded a third-round 61 and was 27 under when he won here four years ago, continued his love affair with the Laguna Golf Phuket course today.

The 27-year-old said he lost 15kg over 12 months by becoming a vegan after watching the Netflix documentary The Game Changers.

"It [becoming a vegan] was a big change for me and my wife in the beginning, but now we got used to it," said Chanachok, who shot seven birdies, including two on his last two holes, and was bogey free.

"It really helped my fitness and energy levels. But being here again at Laguna Phuket is also special for me."

Korean Kim Joo-Hyung, equal fourth last week at Blue Canyon Country Club, India's Udayan Mane and Veer Ahlawat, and Thailand's Vanchai Luangnitikul, Phachara Khongwatmai, Kosuke Hamamoto, Sarun Sirithon, and Kasidit Lepkurte all returned 66s.

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