Fast-rising South Korean star Baek Seuk-hyun produced a scorching, course-record six-under-par 66 to emerge as the sole first-round leader in the inaugural Handa-Faldo Cambodian Classic at the Ankgor Golf Resort in Siem Reap yesterday.
The 21-year-old Thailand-based Baek, who has been knocking on the door of Asian Tour fame, revelled in gilding sunshine and a light breeze, unloading renewed energy and vigour with his driver, which had so notably crippled his 2011 campaign.
Finding the fairways with felicity and averaging 300 on his drives, the Korean enjoyed a trouble-free run.
Going out in the company of Australia’s David Gleeson and Thai Thanyakon Khrongpha a little past noon, Baek announced his aggressive intent on the first hole with a birdie.
He picked up five more on the way, while parring the rest with absolute ease.
But the race for first-round honours took a dramatic turn when Ireland’s Niall Turner came up with a late burst that saw him end just one stroke behind the Korean frontrunner.
The 28-year-old Irishman conjured a birdie hat-trick on the sixth, seventh and eighth after he had agonisingly double-bogeyed the par-4 second.
A steady back nine saw him reach within striking distance of Baek.
American Berry Henson staged a remarkable recovery after bogeying the third and the 10th holes.
He clawed his way back with three birdies in a row on the 11th, 12th and 13th to end the day on four under 68, joining a pack of six that are two strokes behind the leader.
The early flutter in the clubhouse was caused by Thai teenage sensation Rattanon Wannasrichan, who turned pro barely three months ago after his spectacular SEA Games gold medal in Indonesia last November.
The 16-year-old was fearlessly competent during a flawless round, sinking a 20-foot putt for a birdie with the supreme confidence of an ace marksman.
“My tee shots were so good but my iron play was average. I managed to make some good putts,” Rattanon said as he joined fellow countrymen Athaphon Prathummanee and Chawalit Plaphol with an impressive four under par 68.
Korean Kim Hyung Sung, Australian Paul Donahoo and Elmer Salvador of the Phillipines also pouched ‘four birds’ each to share the honours with the Thai trio.
The highest ranked Asian Tour player in the field, Prom Meesawat of Thailand, garnered two birdies for two under par 70, same as Bangladesh contender Siddikur, who is currently eighth on the order of Merit list to Prom’s third.
The Malaysian threesome of Ben Leong, S.Shivachandran and Shaaban Hussin shot rounds of three under 69 to remain three strokes off the pace in the company of India’s Ajeethesh Sandhu and Austrian Hamza Amin
Cambodian amateurs Ly Hong and Seng Vanseiha, meanwhile, were somewhat out of their depth yesterday at the US$300,000 event.
Left handed Ly Hong managed two birdies in a round that was ruined by eight bogeys, one of them, the seventh being a disappointing double. Seng Vanseiha also faced similar plight and ended up with six over 78.
Favoured contenders Mardan Mammat of Singapore and Thailand’s Prayad Markseang could only manage even par 72.
Faldo plays Phnom Penh Pro-Am
The Grand Phnom Penh Golf Club gets a rare chance on Sunday to watch six-time Major winner Sir Nick Faldo in action once the ongoing Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic winds up in Siem Reap and its Pro-Am event moves base to the Cambodian capital.
The local golfing circle is agog with excitement over the prospect of former world No 1 Faldo recreating his old magic. The English maestro will join 20 other professionals, including the winner of the Handa Faldo tournament, in the traditional Professional-Amateur mix, giving raw talent plenty of scope, space and satisfaction in rubbing shoulders with some of the region’s best practitioners of the game.
The Asian Tour lists the following professionals in the line up: Berry Henson, Marcus Both, Daisuke Katoka, Unho Park, Iain Steel, Ted Innes Ker, Chris Rodgers, Kodai Ichihara, David Gleeson, Mike Cunning, Nakarintra Ratanakul, Gavin Flint, Hiromichi Namiki, Cam Chih Bing, Sam Cyr, David Lipsky, Micheal Bibat and Antonio Lascuna.
Each team will consist of three amateurs to be led by a professional assigned by the Asian Tour.
The event follows the conventional best ball format, where one best net score is the key, and the maximum handicap allowed for men will be 18 and 24 for women.
Prizes are on offer for the top three teams of the session.
There are special prizes for the longest drive on Hole 7 and nearest to pin on holes 3, 6, 11 and 16.