Filipino Miguel Tabuena and Dodge Kemmer from the United States enjoyed a brilliant start to the International Series Thailand, carding 8-under 64s to take the first-round lead on Thursday.
The duo lead by one stroke over Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Jazz Janewattananond, who fired 65s at Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin.
Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, American Turk Pettit, Andrew Dodt from Australia, Korean Bio Kim and Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong, Danthai Boonma, Ekpharit Wu and Settee Prakongvech all came in with 66s.
The US $2 million event is the fifth event of the season on the Asian Tour, and third International Series tournament.
Last year, Tabuena endured an uncharacteristically poor season and barely retained his Asian Tour card. The top 70 on the Asian Tour Order of Merit kept their cards and Tabuena finished 70th, exactly US $71.89 ahead of none other than Kemmer, in 71st position.
But he has returned with a vengeance this year and finished in the top 15 in his last two events on Tour, the International Series tournaments in Oman and Qatar.
“It is a bit of a long story, I didn’t play too well last year,” said the 28-year-old. “I had some time off, but I was lucky enough to keep my card by about 50 dollars. I was the last person to get in, and I told myself that is never going to happen again.
“I worked really hard during the off season, and I guess it is showing a bit. I finished 13th in Oman and top 10 in Qatar. The game has been there, even back home. I am just glad it’s coming together.”
He made four birdies on each nine including one on the final hole.
He added: “The course is pretty gettable in the morning. I was lucky enough to get off to a hot start. I was four under after six. I actually left a couple of putts out there, mis-read two of them. I was lucky enough to finish with a birdie on the last. Can’t complain shooting 64.”
The Filipino’s fine round could not have come at a better time as he was watched all the way by his family.
“My whole family is here, finally, it has been a few years. It’s just been my wife for the past couple of tournaments, but I am very, very grateful to have my dad here, my mum, brother and sister,” said Tabuena, who last victory came in 2018 at the Queen’s Cup, also here in Thailand.
Kemmer made up for not keeping his card via the Merit list by earning it through a top 10 finish on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) Order of Merit.
“Kind of a slow start, got a lot of chances and took a while to figure out the greens,” said Kemmer, who played the back nine in 6-under 30, which included a three-putt on 18 for par.
“I turned in two under and then started hitting my wedges pretty close, a bunch of them within four or five feet, that took some of the guess work out of the greens.
“I will try and do better tomorrow, keep swinging aggressively and maybe learn a little bit more about the greens and make even more putts.”
The American’s good season on the ADT was highlighted by victory in the Gurugram Classic in India in April.
He added: “I had great season on ADT, won once with a bunch of top fives, never quite got it going on the Asian Tour. So I knew it was in there, been hitting it nicely this year. Great to get off to a good start.”
As expected Kiradech, looking for his first win in five years, has made a strong start.
“Opening round, one stroke behind, seven under, always great to start that way,” said Kiradech, who missed a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-five 18th having hit a brilliant second shot using his 3-wood 300 yards.
“I am striking the ball much better. I am working with my new trainer, my swing coach Mike Walker, I think we are working it the right way. I just need one good week to get everything together. And hopefully my body is strong enough to play these next four days. I have played with an injury a lot over the past three years, hurt my right knee, my left hip, it just popped up.”