From making the halfway cut right on the number, Kiradech Aphibarnrat found himself in title contention after a wild US Open third round on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Thai star hit an impressive two-under 68 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, taking advantage of an early start to shoot five birdies against three bogeys and rose 51 rungs to T7 on 6-over 216 in the year’s second major. He will enter the final round only three shots behind co-leaders Dustin Johnson (77), Daniel Berger (66), Tony Finau (66) and defending champion Brooks Koepka (72).
Kiradech was only one of three players in the field to break par on golf’s ‘Moving Day’ – the other two being Berger and Finau – as he gave himself a shot at the title and a chance to wrap-up his PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.
“It’s always pressure to be in the U.S. Open. To have a chance to play on the weekend is such a great week. And to move up a lot on my position, I just tried to do everything that my job had to do, keep the ball in play and just hope it will be my day,” said Kiradech, who has two top-5s at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The big-hitting Thai, ranked 31st in the world, found all fairways on Saturday which made life easier for him. After making bogey on three when he found a greenside bunker, he bounced back with birdies on four, five and eight, converting putts from inside of 10 feet. He traded two more birdies on 12 and 17 against dropped shots on 13 and 14 for his first under-par round in two US Open appearances.
Nearly five and a half hours after signing his scorecard, and with the leaders struggling as the winds picked up and greens became devilishly tricky, Kiradech found himself lying in the top-10 of a Major championship at any stage for the first time in his blossoming career. He knows he must repeat his heroics and stay patient on Sunday to have any chance of becoming only the second Asian golfer after South Korea’s YE Yang (2009 PGA Championship) to win a major championship.
“I think it’s all about keeping the ball in play, under the wind and then put it in the right positions. Some putts you have to be a little bit against it, some putts you have to back off a little bit. It just has to be all about the game planning. If you hit it out of position, on this course when you make a mistake, it hurts a lot,” said Kiradech.
“This course, when the wind picks up, is a completely different golf course. Really difficult to put the ball in the fairways, and you can’t hold the greens. And the pins were really tricky. You just have to be really patient and really calm on the shot,” said Kiradech, who will play alongside Masters Tournament winner Patrick Reed in the fourth to last pairing on Sunday.