Kuala Lumpur, October 27: Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished an impressive joint third at the US$7 million CIMB Classic to virtually put one hand on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit crown on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Kiradech battled bravely with a closing two-under-par 70 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West course but ended one shot shy of Ryan Moore and Gary Woodland of the United States.
The American duo will return on Monday, 7.30am for a sudden-death play-off after tying on 14-under-par 274 before play was suspended due to fading light following two weather suspensions earlier in the afternoon.
Chasing a second title at the West course after his triumph at the Malaysian Open in March, Kiradech tied for the lead for much of the final day with an outward 33 but after a bogey on 10 following a poor drive, his putter went cold on the back nine.
Kiradech’s consolation for his fine showing at the CIMB Classic, jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR, was a cheque of US$406,000, which takes his season’s tally in Asia to approximately US$1.1 million.
It makes him only the second player after India’s Jeev Milkha Singh to surpass US$1 million in winnings in a year on the Asian Tour and some US$600,000 ahead of second-placed Scott Hend of Australia who finished tied 40th with seven events remaining.
“I’m very proud of the way I played this week. My goal is like top five or top 10, so I’m happy enough. The way I’m striking the ball this week is brilliant. I haven’t played this well since after I won the Malaysian Open, and I have a lot of family here this week, my mom, my dad, my sister and a lot of golf fans supported me really well. It feels like home, Malaysia. I love it,” said Kiradech.
Two weather delays due to lightning storms did no favours for Kiradech, who conceded that nerves started to creep into his play. Wearing his favourite lime coloured shirt which he used to win his two earlier Asian Tour titles, Kiradech missed makeable birdie chances on 11, 12, 16 and 17. He then slid another birdie attempt on 18 from 15 feet past the hole which would have put him in a play-off.
“I think I put too much pressure on me for the back nine, tried to make a score. I hit a lot of good shots, made an easy bogey on 10, and then on 11, 12, had short birdie chances, and then 16, 17, and 18 also. I learned a lot, that when I try too much, I just forced myself too much. But when you have the opportunity to win this PGA TOUR event, it changes your life, changes your future.”
He said he would play in several Asian Tour events to ensure he wraps up his first Asian Tour Order of Merit crown although he’s miles ahead of second-placed Hend. “This (finish) will guarantee 90 percent to win the Order of Merit. I’ll be playing in a few more Asian Tour events for sure,” said Kiradech.
Due to his top-10 finish, the burly Thai will be exempted for the McGlardey Classic on the PGA TOUR in a fortnight although he is also slated to compete in Turkey. He is also eligible to earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA TOUR if he can collect 278 FedExCup points which will allow him unlimited sponsor’s exemptions for the 2013/2014 season.
“I think the schedule will change right now,” said Kiradech, who earned 163 FedExCup for his finish here. “If I have my chance even like just one percent, I will try and do it, but anyway, on other tours right now, I have to play like in Dubai and Europe, and after that I will focus on my World Ranking,” he said.