Namchok stays the course at Sutera Harbour


Kota Kinabalu [SABAH]: Burly Namchok Tantipokhakul overcame tough scoring conditions to preserve his overnight advantage at the halfway stage of the Warisan Harta Sabah Masters on Thursday.

Determined to end a two-year long title drought, the 28-year-old Thai scrambled with three birdies in his closing four holes for a one-under 70 effort at the wind-swept Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club.

Namchok totalled seven-under 135 to stay three shots clear of compatriot Nirun Sae-ung, who fired a 70 of his own at the US$100,000 tournament co-sanctioned by the ASEAN PGA Tour and the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

Malaysia’s Kemarol Baharin was among a trio of players two shots further back after a round of 69, alongside the Thai pair of Rattanon Wannasrichan (70) and Piya Swangarunporn (69).

Newly-crowned ADT Order of Merit champion Casey O’Toole returned with a 71 to sit in sole sixth on 141 while joint overnight leader Khor Kheng Hwai of Malaysia slipped into a share of seventh after a disappointing 77.

Starting on the 10th tee, Namchok had a less than stellar start when he double-bogeyed the 13th .He regained some ground with a birdie on the next but dropped another shot on the 15th, turning in 37.

With the firm greens unyielding, the three-time winner on the ASEAN PGA Tour added a touch of determination to his putting stroke, which resulted in a flawless back nine with three gains at the end.

“I was scrambling from the word go and with the wind picking up as the round progressed, the challenge was to keep the ball on the fairway and try to pick the right landing spot on the greens. I struggled to sink my putts on the front nine and I figured that I had to be a little more confident over my putter and it paid off.

Namchok, whose name means “lucky” in Thai, was counting his fortunes after a poor drive on the ninth hit the cart path and bounced back into the fairway. Having found the green in two, he holed a monster 30-foot birdie putt to stay in the lead.

“I was very lucky with that because I could have been in a lot of trouble in the trees. But I’m really happy to be playing well and contending again. I have struggled in my last few seasons on the Asian and Japan Tours and returning to the familiar setting of the ASEAN PGA Tour this week, I’m finding that winning confidence again,” noted Namchok.

Nirun, who also began on the back nine, stumbled with a bogey on the par-four 13th but bounced back swiftly with a birdie on the very next hole to make the turn on 35. The 20-year-old sank another birdie on the eighth hole to stay in contention for his second ADT title.

“I stayed patient out there and a one-under effort would be a fair outcome. I could have holed a couple more putts but maybe I was a little too cautious,” said Nirun.

The young Thai beat compatriot Pavit Tangkamolprasert in a play-off to claim his breakthrough victory at the PGM Sabah Championship last May and believes he can master the conditions and claim an early season triumph.

“I am feeling quite confident because I won here in Sabah last year. The swirling winds put a lot of importance on the right club selection and you have to take your chances on this tricky greens. I’ll stick to my game plan and just adapt to the conditions,” he noted.

Leading second round scores (Par-71)

 Malaysian unless stated

135 – Namchok Tantipokhakul (THA) 65-70

138 – Nirun Sae-ung (THA) 68-70

140 – Rattanon Wannasrichan (THA) 70-70, Piya Swangarunporn (THA) 71-69, Kemarol Baharin 71-69

141 – Casey O’Toole (USA) 70-71

142 – Pravee Visalkit (THA) 74-68, Lam Yu Shuen 77-65, Mitchell Slorach (SIN) 70-72, Khor Kheng Hwai 65-77

143 – Nakarintra Ratanakul (THA) 72-71, Danny Chia 72-71, Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 71-72, Nattapong Putta (THA) 71-72