Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat exceeded his own expectations after a long slump to shoot a brilliant second round 64 at the SMBC Singapore Open on Friday to seize the clubhouse lead on seven-under 135 before rain halted play for the day.
Chapchai lost his Asian Tour card last season and only made this week’s field because of his career earnings but all that was forgotten as he put in a performance reminiscent of some of his past successes.
“I am so happy and excited to be on top of the leaderboard. I haven’t felt this way on the golf course for so long, at least three years,” he said.
The 34 year old with a penchant for low scoring – he was a stunning 32-under-par for 72 holes at the SAIL Open in India in 2009 – leads countryman Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (70) and South Africa’s Shaun Norris (67) by a stroke at Sentosa Golf Club.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia and American Kurt Kitayama were also a shot behind Chapchai in joint second spot when play was called off. Garcia, the world number 10, was one under par for his second round after eight holes while Kitayama, a Monday qualifier, birdied his second hole before the hooter sounded.
The second round will resume at 7.40am on Saturday.
In-form Shiv Kapur of India, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour last year including victory in the Royal Cup in late December, lies a further shot adrift after a 67. Kapur carded seven birdies but rued a couple of missed par putts in an up and down round. American Jarin Todd shot 66 to join Kapur on five under 137.
“Three-putting at the last hole left a sour taste in my mouth. Small margins here, but I played pretty well.” commented Kapur, who became a new dad late last year. “Starting the day, I was even-par and I had a hole and a half to play. I birdied 18th to shoot one-under this morning.
“Then, I came out playing really good. Five-under-par on the back nine, but I lost my way in the front, my back nine. It’s a tough course and there is no let up here. You hit one or two bad shots and it gets you.”
Chapchai, who has enjoyed some of the finest moments of his career at the Singapore Open, grabbed most of the attention in the morning session with his bogey-free round
He switched on the after burners from the start with four straight birdies and then after a run of pars picked up shots at the 14th, 17th and 18th.
In his rookie season in 2005, Chapchai announced his arrival on the scene by taking the first round lead in the Singapore Open and three years later led a star-studded field going into the final round before finishing in a tie for seventh.
He has won four times on the Asian Tour but his form has dipped in recent years.
“To finish the round with seven-under-par was beyond my expectation. Before coming to this tournament I tried to adjust and fix my swing flaw with my coach,” said Chapchai, who earned the nickname ‘King Kong’ at the start of his career because of his prodigious drives.
“Today I just tried to play the same way as in practice and follow my coach’s advice. I didn’t think too much and didn’t set any target, just try to get used to my new golf swing and get better rhythm.
“For the next two days, I will do the same as I did today and not think much about the result.”
Tirawat, who finished tied 11th alongside Sergio Garcia in last year’s SMBC Singapore Open, played steady golf with just two birdies and a single bogey to stay well in the hunt.
“Overall I am happy with the way I played today,” said the 28 year old. a winner on the Asian Development Tour last year.
“I hit 12 fairways and 15 greens but the ball was not close enough to the pin to give myself a chance to make (more) birdies.”
Norris, a winner on the Japan Tour last year, had two birdies in 12 holes before jumping up the leaderboard by sinking a 10-foot eagle putt at the par-five fourth (his 13th hole of the second round).
“I’ve reached my goals and I’m happy with where I am. I think I’m in a good position,” said Norris. “We always think it’s (the winning score) is going to be a lot lower than what it is. I think it can get to about 14 under par, but we’ll see what happens.”
South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, a past winner of the Open Championship, and Gaganjeet Bhullar of India, who were in a six-way tie for the lead after the first round, fell back after matching 72s.
World number 16 Pat Perez of the United States added a 72 to his opening 70 and currently sits above the cut line on even par.