Thailand’s Kongwatmai secures first Asian Tour win

PHUKET: Thailand’s Phachara Kongwatmai (pix) took home his first Asian Tour victory on Sunday, claiming the US$1 million (RM4.2m) Laguna Phuket Championship after fending off two fellow countrymen and South Korea’s Bi-o Kim by a single shot.

Phachara’s 10-under par total of 270 came after he holed a 12-foot par putt on the 18th, eking out a win with Kim, Panuphol Pittayarat and Denwit Boriboonsub hot on his heels.

“I feel very happy and very excited for this year... (I’ve) been waiting for about six years,” he said.

“Right now it is my time and I feel great.”

The young Thai star sprang on to the golf scene in 2013, triumphing at the Singha Hua Hin Open as a 14-year-old amateur.

In 2015, he won twice during the Asian Development Tour, but the pandemic halted his seemingly unstoppable ascent.

On Sunday, high winds whipping across the course threatened to upend Phachara’s push for victory, but he was able to counteract it with his previous experience on the course.

“Today was quite difficult because there was a tough wind. I have never played with this wind in Thailand before,” he said.

“That last putt is my last chance for 18 holes but if I missed I knew I had another chance in a play-off. But I had that putt from that place before when I was here in quarantine.”

After a three-day clubhouse lead, 31-year-old Kim got off to a poor start with four bogeys in the first five holes.

“It was another difficult day when I could not find my rhythm,” Kim said.

“But I still had some chances with some putts coming in. I am proud of the way I hung in there.”

The US$1m tournament on the popular Thai holiday island marks the second Asian Tour tee-off since the Malaysian Open in March 2020.

Last week Taiwan’s Chan Shih-chang sealed a gripping last-hole victory in the Blue Canyon Phuket event.

The players will head next to Singapore for two more events in January to finally round off the longest season in Asian Tour history. – AFP