Englishman Chris Wood scored the first win of his professional career on Sunday with a two-shot victory in a rain-interrupted U.S. $1 million Thailand Open, breaking the hearts of home fans seeking a first Thai champion in eight years.
The 24-year-old European Tour regular — competing in a OneAsia Tour event for the first time — fired rounds of 67, 64, 67 and 67 for a 23-under par total of 265, although preferred lies were allowed because of soggy conditions at the 6,471 metre (7,077 yard) Suwan Golf Country Club.
Hard-charging Thais Arnond Vongvanij (65) and Wisut Artjanawat (67) battled to catch the strapping 1.96-metre (6 ft 5 inch) Wood, but had to settle for a share of third place with Korean Lee Dong-hwan (67).
Alone in second was Jang Dong-kyu, also of Korea, who completed the first nine holes in just 29 shots en-route to a closing 63 and the best result of his career.
“It is brilliant – I am really, really pleased,” Wood said, after what appeared to be a victory march from the 17th was interrupted by a rain delay of over an hour.
“It is hard winning. I always felt that once I got one win it would give me the confidence to go on and win more, so hopefully I can take this confidence back to the remainder of the tournaments I have got for the season.”
Wood, one of five European Tour regulars competing in the event, was four under after six holes on Sunday, but gave his rivals a glimmer of hope with a bogey on the eighth.
At the 11th, however, he put one hand on the winner’s cheque of over US$181,000 with a birdie putt of around 30 feet — and then effectively pocketed it with an even longer effort on 15.
“It was a tough putt, but I putted really nicely this week,” he said.
“I think I have turned the corner in my putting which has let me down all season. I have been playing as well as I have done this week but without converting chances. It is nice to convert a few. I always knew once I cracked the putting I would be winning and this week proved my point.”
Thailand has not produced a home winner of the National Open since Boonchu Ruangkit won his second in 2004, and the only other local winner of the event, Suthep Meesawat (1991), was at the course on Sunday to watch his son, Prom, try to emulate that feat.
The “Big Dolphin”, as Prom is known locally, had the lead after two rounds, but could go no better than par over the weekend to slip down the leaderboard.
His close friends Wisut and Arnond took up the challenge, but the pressure of winning a trophy that has a spiritual significance for Thais because it was donated by their much-revered King, proved too much.
“Just a few players played a little better than I did, so a lot of positives to take away from the Thailand Open,” said Arnond, who went to college in the United States.
“I birdied the first three holes on the back nine and I did start to think at that time that I could win, but the thoughts disappeared pretty quickly. I was just trying to focus on the next shot. I figured if I could focus on the next shot and do what I was doing and the putts dropped, great. I just came up a few short.”
Wisut, winner of the ASEAN PGA Tour Order of Merit last year, was also buoyant despite missing two putts on the last two holes that could have made all the difference.
“I can’t complain though as this is my best ever result in a tournament at this level,” he said.
“I am very happy as my game is really improving and this week will give me a lot of confidence to continue to produce results like this. It is a breakthrough for me.”
At four under, the cut was the lowest in OneAsia‘s history — reflecting the strength of a field that was also bolstered by the presence of 20 Japan Tour players as part of a growing relationship between the circuits.
Jang, 23, took advantage of those burgeoning links for the best finish of his professional career — and it could have been even better had he not missed a two-footer for birdie on the last as he hurried to finish before the rain started.
“I just read it wrong,” said Jang, who spent several years in South Africa as a teenager honing his game.
Wood turned professional in 2008 after finishing fifth in the Open Championship and then underscored his potential by bettering that the following year when he just missed out on making a play-off with Stewart Cink and Tom Watson at Turnberry. With a second and third place finish on the European tour this year, it was only a matter of time before he broke his duck.
OneAsia has provided two maiden victories this year, after Australian Nick Cullen won the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open.
Thailand Open defending champion Andre Stolz of Australia, who went on the win the OneAsia Order of Merit title last year, finished at eleven under after closing with a 67, his best round of the week.
The day belonged to Wood, however, who plans a break with his family to celebrate the win.
“I am going home for a week, a bit of rest, share it with my family and then onto Gleneagles in Scotland for a tournament,” he said.
After round 4 of the Thailand Open at the par 72, 6,471 metre (7,077 yard) Suwan Golf & Country Club(a- denotes amateur):
265 – Chris WOOD (ENG) 67-64-67-67.
267 – JANG Dong-kyu (KOR) 68-69-67-63.
268 – Arnond VONGVANIJ (THA) 67-67-69-65, Wisut ARTJANAWAT (THA) 66-64-71-67, LEE Dong-hwan (KOR) 67-67-67-67.
270 – Mark BROWN (NZL) 70-65-70-65.
271 – Yasunori YOSHIDA (JPN) 64-72-70-65, KIM Meen-Whee (KOR) 69-68-66-68, CHAN Shih-chang (TPE) 65-66-68-72.
272 – Scott ARNOLD (AUS) 70-68-67-67, CHOI Ho-sung (KOR) 66-69-69-68, Udorn DUANGDECHA (THA) 70-65-68-69, David McKENZIE (AUS) 65-66-70-71.
273 – Pawin INGKHAPRADIT (THA) 70-66-72-65, Kenichi KUBOYA (JPN) 71-66-70-66, Michael WRIGHT (AUS) 70-69-67-67, Chapchai NIRAT (THA) 70-70-66-67, Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) 66-70-69-68, Peter O’MALLEY (AUS) 70-70-65-68, Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA) 68-64-72-69, Prom MEESAWAT (THA) 66-63-72-72.
274 – KIM Hyung-tae (KOR) 64-73-69-68, David HORSEY (ENG) 70-69-67-68, Terry PILKADARIS (AUS) 68-71-66-69, CHOI Jin-ho (KOR) 66-66-72-70, Gareth PADDISON (NZL) 70-67-67-70.
275 – Richard FINCH (ENG) 66-72-69-68, Jamie ARNOLD (AUS) 71-69-67-68, CHOI Joon-woo (KOR) 70-64-72-69, PARK Sang-hyun (KOR) 69-67-70-69, Gerald ROSALES (PHI) 69-69-68-69, Matthew MILLAR (AUS) 71-67-67-70, Nick CULLEN (AUS) 65-72-67-71, Boonchu RUANGKIT (THA) 69-66-67-73.
276 – Ryan HALLER (AUS) 70-68-70-68, KIM Do-hoon 753 (KOR) 66-72-70-68, Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA) 71-68-69-68, LIANG Wen-chong (CHN) 65-70-70-71, Marcus CAIN (AUS) 72-66-67-71.
277 – Sutijet KOORATANAPISAN (THA) 71-66-74-66, Andre STOLZ (AUS) 70-70-70-67, HWANG In-choon (KOR) 66-69-73-69, Scott STRANGE (AUS) 68-68-72-69, Anthony SUMMERS (AUS) 74-64-70-69, Jason NORRIS (AUS) 72-66-67-72, Rohan BLIZARD (AUS) 67-65-71-74.
278 – LEE Sang-hee (KOR) 66-70-72-70, KIM Dae-hyun (KOR) 72-67-68-71, PARK Hyo-won (KOR) 69-67-70-72, Matthew GRIFFIN (AUS) 72-66-68-72, Pavit TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA) 69-70-65-74.
279 – Craig HANCOCK (AUS) 66-74-70-69, Natipong SRITHONG (am, THA) 65-75-70-69, Brent McCULLOUGH (AUS) 67-69-72-71, Simon YATES (SCO) 69-71-68-71, PARK Eun-shin (KOR) 69-67-71-72, ZHANG Xin-jun (CHN) 69-70-68-72, Adam CRAWFORD (AUS) 70-70-67-72.
280 – HAN Ren (CHN) 68-70-73-69, Yasumasa SUZUKI (JPN) 73-65-71-71.
281 – WU Wei-huang (CHN) 67-71-74-69, Stephen LEANEY (AUS) 68-69-74-70, Douglas HOLLOWAY (NZL) 68-71-72-70, Stephen DARTNALL (AUS) 69-67-70-75.
282 – Vuttipong PUANGKAEW (THA) 71-66-75-70, OUYANG Zheng (CHN) 72-68-71-71, Rory HIE (INA) 71-68-67-76.
283 – Thanyakon KHRONGPHA (THA) 70-70-73-70, Varut CHOMCHALAM (THA) 69-71-71-72, LEE Jin-won (KOR) 70-67-73-73, Poom SAKSANSIN (am, THA) 68-72-70-73, LI Hao-tong (CHN) 70-68-70-75.
287 – KIM Byung-jun (KOR) 67-73-74-73, HUANG Wen-yi (CHN) 69-70-74-74.
288 – SU Dong (CHN) 68-72-74-74, Nicholas FUNG (MAS) 66-73-74-75.
289 – SEO Jeoung-min (KOR) 69-68-76-76.
290 – Tawan PHONGPHUN (am, THA) 72-68-78-72, SUNG Mao-chang (TPE) 71-68-76-75.