Kuala Lumpur, October 28: Thailand’s rising star Kiradech Aphibarnrat earned a new army of admirers after his stellar showing at the CIMB Classic but vowed to keep improving as he cast his eye on global success.
As one the Asian Tour’s most exciting young talents to emerge, Kiradech remained firmly grounded after finishing tied third at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club and earned praises from the likes of world number three Phil Mickelson.
He also gained new fans from across the globe after producing a battling performance with his grip-it and rip-it style of play at the US$7 million event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR. A total of 18 players from the world’s top-50 were in the field in Malaysia
The 24-year-old Kiradech played consistently from tee-to-green, leading the Greens in Regulation category with 83.3% of greens hit and was tied second in fairways hit where he found 76.8% fairways.
“I cannot say I’m good enough. I mean, I have to improve my game a lot if I want to play on the PGA TOUR, play with the star and world class players. If I want to play with them, every part of my game has to be strong,” said Kiradech, who virtually has one hand on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit title with US$1.1 million in winnings this season.
“I can tell you right now that I’m hitting the ball really well, just my putting and my short game aren’t good enough to win the PGA TOUR events. But with the way I’m playing, my game is heading in the right way,” he added.
Kiradech, who earned US$406,000 for his third place, was in contention throughout the weather-hit final round on Sunday but a cold putter denied him the chance to win what would have been his career biggest title yet.
He will move up to 64th place on the Official World Golf Ranking but conceded there was still much room for improvement in his game.
Kiradech is approximately US$500,000 ahead second-placed Scott Hend of Australia who finished tied 40th on Sunday.
Mickelson, a five-time Major winner, played with Kiradech in the opening two rounds of the CIMB Classic and was impressed by the burly Thai.
“He’s really a good player, and he hits the ball a long way. I think the greatest strength of his game is his hands, his ability to hit wedges and shots around the greens. I think that’s certainly a strong point, and so it doesn’t surprise me seeing him play well,” said Mickelson, who is a World Golf Hall of Famer.
Asian Tour honorary member K.J. Choi of Korea, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner, joined in the chorus of praise for Kiradech whom he played with in Korea three weeks ago.
“He has got a very good game. He is a complete player. The good thing about him is he is a quick player. He is always ready and like a tank, he always moves forward,” said Choi. “That kind of aggressive style of play is good. If he keeps that up, then players will like him and he will earn their respect.”
Hend, who has won three titles on the Asian Tour this season, had the opportunity to catch Kiradech on the Order of Merit but conceded the Thai was currently the better player.
“He is playing great golf. You can’t fault the guy. All I can do is try and play good, and I haven’t played good enough (last week). He’s played better, and he deserves it,” said the Australian, who won the Venetian Macau Open two weeks ago.
Gaganjeet Bhullar of India stayed in third position on the Order of Merit on US$327,378 after earning US$40,425 at the CIMB Classic. Anirban Lahiri moved up three spots to fourth on US$279,483 courtesy of his 35th result which was worth US$34,510.
Baek Seuk-hyun of Korea remained in fifth position with a total of US$275,993 after notching US$12,950.
Pos Player Order of Merit
1 Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA) $1,117,074
2 Scott HEND (AUS) $569,464
3 Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) $327,378
4 Anirban LAHIRI (IND) $279,483
5 BAEK Seuk-hyun (KOR) $275,993
6 LIANG Wen-chong (CHN) $263,798
7 Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) $248,991
8 Shiv KAPUR (IND) $245,294
9 SIDDIKUR (BAN) $224,167
10 Wade ORMSBY (AUS) $213,349
11 Prayad MARKSAENG (THA) $173,558
12 Berry HENSON (USA) $158,451
13 KIM Gi-whan (KOR) $147,292
14 KANG Sung-hoon (KOR) $135,000
15 Angelo QUE (PHI) $130,344
16 Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA) $129,634
17 Arnond VONGVANIJ (THA) $127,702
18 Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND) $124,704
19 Pariya JUNHASAVASDIKUL (THA) $123,311
20 Jason KNUTZON (USA) $123,230