European Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke got a front row seat as Gleneagles hero Jamie Donaldson opened with a nine-under-par 63 to take the first round lead at the Thailand Golf Championship at the Amata Spring Country Club on Thursday.
World No 587 Clarke, who is seeking his first Top 10 in a ranking event for more than two years, eagled the par-five 15th and had just 25 putts en route to a three under 69 and a share of 12th as Cork’s Niall Turner shot a 74 to share 84th.
Clarke could only look on in admiration as his Welsh playing partner compilted a flawless, nine-birdie round to lead the US$1 million Asian Tour event by three strokes from Thailand’s Chanat Sakulpolphaisan and Chinnarat Phadungsil and last week’s Ho Tram Open winner Sergio Garcia.
Donaldson, who is making his debut at the Thailand Golf Championship, stormed off the blocks with four straight birdies to turn in 32 before picking up further shots at the 10th, 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th.
“I played really good all day and I couldn’t really do anything wrong,” Donaldson said. “I just need to continue this form for the next few days and not concentrate on things that are out of my control or ahead of me. I just want to stay in the present as they say and take it one day at a time.”
Fresh off his victory in Vietnam last week, Garcia had eight birdies in his 66, six of them in a back nine of 31 that began with a bogey at the 10th.
The Spaniard said: “I’m definitely happy. It was wonderful back nine and I’m obviously delighted with shooting five-under there.
“I am feeling good. It hit some very good shots throughout the day and I feel like I’m in a good position going into the next day.”
The leading four players, who finish in the top 12 and ties and who are not already exempt, will earn a place in The Open from July 14 - 17, 2016. In the event of a tie, the qualifying place(s) will go to the player with the highest position in the Official World Golf Ranking at the commencement of the event.
Leading scores after round 1 of the Thailand Golf Championship being played at the par 72, 7498 Yards Amata Spring GcC course (am – denotes amateur):
63 – Jamie DONALDSON (WAL).
66 – Chanat SAKULPOLPHAISAN (THA), Sergio GARCIA (ESP), Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA).
67 – Natipong SRITHONG (THA), Brett MUNSON (USA).
68 – Yusaku MIYAZATO (JPN), Matthew FITZPATRICK (ENG), Martin KAYMER (GER), Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA).
69 – Byeonghun AN (KOR), Matthew GILES (AUS), Soomin LEE (KOR), Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND), Sam CYR (USA), Pavit TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA), Chikkarangappa S. (IND), Joost LUITEN (NED), Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA), Darren CLARKE (NIR), Angelo QUE (PHI).
70 – Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA), Sunghoon KANG (KOR), Jacques BLAAUW (RSA), Berry HENSON (USA), Sattaya SUPUPRAMAI (THA), Mithun PERERA (SRI), Nicolas COLSAERTS (BEL), Rashid KHAN (IND), Sam BRAZEL (AUS), Shaun NORRIS (RSA).
71 – Lee WESTWOOD (ENG)
74 - Niall TURNER (IRL)