Suteepat closes in on breakthrough win

Suteepat closes in on breakthrough win

Thai ace two shots ahead of chasing pack at Taifong Open

In pole position: Suteepat Prateeptienchai of Thailand is gunning for his first Asian Tour title. Asian Tour
In pole position: Suteepat Prateeptienchai of Thailand is gunning for his first Asian Tour title. Asian Tour

Taipei: Thailand's Suteepat Prateeptienchai raced into a two-shot lead after round three of the US$400,000 Taiwan Glass Taifong Open on Saturday after shooting a six-under-par 66 to go to 15 under.

His compatriot Chapchai Nirat carded a 69 and was in second place, at the par-72 Taifong Golf Club, while Malaysia's Shahriffuddin Ariffin was a further shot back following a 66.

Suteepat's emergence is perhaps no surprise as he finished joint second in this event last year, when it was the season-ending event on the Asian Development Tour (ADT). The result saw him wrap up the ADT Order of Merit title, after a breakthrough season when he triumphed three times.

Despite Saturday's fine round he was reserved about his chances on Sunday.

"I'd take a top three finish tomorrow to be honest as there as so many top Chinese-Taipei players," he said.

Chapchai and Bangladesh's Siddikur Rahman had started the day in front with Suteepat one back, but a back nine of five-under-par 31, which included birdies on 17 and 18, both par fives, saw Suteepat take the lead for the first time in an Asian Tour event.

After a long first season on the Asian Tour, which has seen him retain his playing rights for next year as he is 53rd on the Tour's Merit list, it's the perfect way to end the season. Just one more event remains after this event, the Saudi Open presented by Public Investment Fund, the week after next.

He added: "I have already kept my card for next year, so I can just relax, but it definitely has been a tough and challenging year with so many top players competing."

Chapchai aged 40 and looking for his first Tour win since claiming the Selangor Masters in 2014, also birdied the last two.

The former golden boy of Thai golf has won four Asian Tour titles and has been on a mission to make it No.5 in the twilight of his career.

"I am in a good position again," said Chapchai, who for so long was one of the biggest hitters on Tour and is still ranked sixth on the Driving Distance stats.

"The wind was up today but it didn't bother me. It's all about being mentally strong tomorrow, and not thinking too much."

Ariffin also graduated from last year's ADT, as he was fourth on the Merit list, and is bidding to become the first Malaysian to win on the Asian Tour since Danny Chia's victory at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters in 2015.

The joint first-round leader will want to finish his round on Sunday in the same spectacular fashion he did on Saturday. He was six under for the last six holes with birdies on 13, 14 and 15, another on 17 and an eagle on the last.

Siddikur will be bitterly disappointed with his 75, that saw him slip back to seven under. He has kept his Tour card with ease for the past 12 years but is in danger of losing it as he is 89th on the Merit list. The top-65 keep their cards.

Thailand's Itthipat Buranatanyarat returned a 68 and is fourth on 11 under.

Taiwan's Hung Chien-yao, the defending champion, also came in with a 68 and is on his own on 10 under.

It looks very much like American Andy Ogletree will be confirmed at the Asian Tour Order of Merit champion on Sunday as the only player who can catch him, Thailand's Poom Saksansin, returned a 73. He needed to win this week to have any chance of catching Ogletree, but he is now 10 behind the leader.

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