Thailand’s Atthaphon Sriboonkaew ignited his Tour card quest at the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand after opening with a flawless five-under-par 66 at the Rayong Green Valley Country Club on Wednesday.
Atthaphon, one of the most experienced players on Tour, fired five birdies to trail clubhouse leader Rahul Bajaj of India by one shot in second place with Australian Steven Jefferess, who matched his efforts with a 66, at the St. Andrews 2000.
Bajaj, playing in his second attempt at the Qualifying School, nailed four straight birdies in his closing five holes to take his place atop the leaderboard in the opening round, which was disrupted by a lengthy suspension in the morning due to inclement weather.
The first round of the Final Stage was suspended at 8.29am local time due to lightning threats before resuming at 12.45pm. It was later abandoned for the day at 6.10pm due to fading light. All 123 players in the afternoon session will return at 7.00am on Thursday to resume their rounds with the second round slated to commence at 10.00am.
American Berry Henson continued his resurgence with an opening 68 to tie in seventh place while highly-rated Justin Quiban of the Philippines enjoyed a commendable start with a 69 to sit in tied-10th place in his Qualifying School debut.
The Final Stage of the Qualifying School, which features 243 players from over 30 different countries, will be played over five rounds (90 holes) across two courses. All Final Stage entrants will play two rounds before the field is cut to the leading 140 players and ties, who will then play another two rounds.
After 72 holes, the field will be cut to the leading 70 players and ties who will then proceed to the fifth and final round held only at the Rayong Green Valley Country Club. At the conclusion of 90 holes, the top 35 players and ties will be ranked accordingly for the 2018 season.
Did you know?
- Rahul Bajaj hails from Noida in India. He is playing in his second attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School. He missed the mark in his first attempt in 2016.
- Starting from the first hole at the St. Andrews 2000, Bajaj reeled in five birdies before dropping a shot on sixth. He bounced back straightaway with two consecutive birdies from seventh before sparkling a birdie streak from 14.
- Atthaphon Sriboonkaew is one of the most experienced player on the Asian Tour. He played his first tournament on the Asian Tour in 1999 before turning professional the following year.
- After plying his trade on the Asian Tour since joining the play-for-pay ranks in 2000, Atthaphon switched his focus to the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in 2015.
- Atthaphon’s best season on the Asian Tour came in 2011, where he finished 67th on the Order of Merit.
- The 39-year-old Atthaphon enjoyed two top-10 finishes on the ADT in 2017 to finish 39th on the Order of Merit.
- Berry Henson is playing in his second competitive event since returning from a wrist injury layoff last month.
- Henson had undergone two wrist injuries before making his comeback at the ADT season-ending Boonchu Ruangkit Championship where he finished tied-12th last month. He was forced to stop playing competitively in June 2016 and was on medical exemption since. With his medical exemption expiring in June, Henson hopes to revive his career by securing his Asian Tour card at the Qualifying School this week.
- The 38-year-old Henson is a one-time winner on both the Asian Tour and the ADT. He last played the Qualifying School in 2011.
- Justin Quiban is eyeing a successful debut at the Asian Tour Qualifying School. He enjoyed a tied-fifth finish in his second appearance at the 2017 Resorts World Manila Masters.
- The 21-year-old Quiban claimed his maiden win on home soil last month.
- Ye Htet Aung is playing in his third attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School. He is one of the two players from Myanmar in the field this week.
- Ye is the leading player in his home country. Ye gets limited playing rights though his country exemption category so he hopes to better his status by securing his Asian Tour card at the Qualifying School.
Atthaphon Sriboonkaew (Tha) – First round 66 (-5) Rayong Green Valley Country Club: “I made a few up and downs today. I hit it to the right side on the 12th hole and had to lay up. I chipped it good from about five yards from a pretty bad lie and sank the three-footer to save par.
I made four good chips today for three birdies and a par. It was a great round. The rain delay didn’t affect me much. I was just chilling and playing games on my phone during the delay. I guess that helped to keep me relaxed before heading out again.
The two golf courses are pretty different. You got to be really patient out there. I haven’t been able to keep my card for the last few years. I hope to give myself a chance to work my way back onto the Asian Tour with a good result this week.
I spoke to my fitness instructor and my coach before coming here. They want me to just try my best this week. It’s not going to be easy to break into top 35 and ties with more than 200 players in the field.
There are a lot of good players here this week. I will just play my own game and see how it goes.”
Berry Henson (USA) – First round 68 (-3) Rayong Green Valley Country Club: “It was pretty stress-free out there. I didn’t make any bogeys today. I made a couple of mistakes earlier in the round. I made a birdie on the third hole and then on the par-five fourth hole, I three-putted for par.
After that, I just played solid out there. I started right after the rain delay. The conditions changed quite substantially from how it was in the practice rounds because of the rain. It was difficult to control the spin out of the fairways to get it close enough.
I am surprised with the low score as it was just hard to get it close today. I had a chip-in birdie on the 13th hole about 30 yards from just off the fringe. I thought I hit it too hard but it was perfect that it got in.
It was a lucky shot but it was a good shot and I think I deserve it. I played really nicely today. I never really got into a good rhythm but managed to keep it clean. The goal was to shoot five-under so I am close to that.
I was a little worried about my wrist this morning. I felt a bit of pain before my warm up and it was bothering me. It was a good test for me with the rain delay as I haven’t had that for a long time. I was able to do some rehab before heading out. It felt fine when I did my warm up again.
It felt fine throughout the day so no worries with that. I am pretty happy my wrist held up today.”
Justin Quiban (Phi) – First round 69 (-2) St. Andrews 2000: “It was tough out there. I wasn’t really hitting it well but I think my putter saved me. I started from the 10th hole and I hit it to about 40 to 50 feet and made the putt for birdie there. It was a good start for me.
I stumbled with a double-bogey on 13 but managed to bounce back with an eagle on 15 before making another birdie on 17. This is my first time playing in the Qualifying School but I am treating it like any other tournament.
I was just trying to keep myself relaxed during the rain delay. It didn’t affect me much. The St. Andrews course is really tough. I had to be patient out there. You can’t let the course get into your head and get angry. The fairways are tough.
I will try and go low at Rayong Green tomorrow. The game is feeling good for this week. I am feeling confident coming in here, having won my first professional title back home last month.
Ye Htet Aung (Myn) – First round 70 (-1) St. Andrews 2000; “I started really good from the 10th hole with two birdies in my opening three holes. I dropped shots on the 14th and fourth holes but managed to recover with a birdie on the last. I had a good start and finish to the round so I am happy with how I played today.
The greens are pretty soft out there so I think there are good chances of making birdies out there. You got to keep the ball in play to score out there. I have my country exemption for the 2018 season but I want to try for a better status so that’s the reason why I am here.”
See full Leaderboard here