Thai Thippong Triumphs at Tanah Merah

Nitihorn Thippong with the International Series Singapore trophy after his win at Tanah Merah Country Club. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Singapore: Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong triumphed in the inaugural International Series Singapore after one of the most dramatic finishes seen on the Asian Tour.

After holing a pressure-packed, 15-foot par-saving putt on the par-five 18th to take the clubhouse lead on 16-under, Nitithorn, playing in the penultimate flight, then had to wait and see if anyone in the last group could catch him.

It proved to be a much longer wait then expected as the last group – consisting of Malaysian Gavin Green, Chinese-Taipei’s Chan Shih-chang and Thai Phachara Khongwatmai – were forced off the 18th hole for 40 minutes because of lightning.

At that time, Chan was on 16-under and Green one back. When the action resumed Chan, who just before the weather delay had found water with his tee shot, made a double-bogey, while Green narrowly missed a 15-foot birdie putt.

“This is fantastic,” said the 25-year-old Thai, following his triumph over the Tampines Course at Tanah Merah Country Club, a Facility Member at the Asian Golf Industry Federation.

He added: “I cannot describe my feelings right now. I have practiced so hard for this. I hit a lot of greens this week and had a lot of birdie putts. I think my mentality was great. I did not think about the score, just the process.”

He closed with a bogey-free three-under 69 to beat Green, Phachara and Richard T. Lee from Canada by one shot. Green and Phachara both fired 71s, while Lee returned a 67.

Nitithorn won for the first time on the Asian Tour in March at The DGC Open presented by Mastercard and is the second player this season to win twice on Tour, along with American Sihwan Kim.

He added: “It has just been a dream season so far, and to win an International Series event is unbelievable.”

Nitithorn started the day one shot behind overnight leaders Green, the 2017 Asian Tour number one, and Phachara. However, Green got off to the worst possible start and was four-over after four, while Phachara also failed to find his ‘A’ game.

“I got off to a horrendous start, and kind of just clicked the reset button and just kept going,” said Green. “With this course, a lot of things can happen. And especially on the last hole, as you saw, there was so much drama down the last. It was anybody’s game, and anybody could have done something.

“A lot of things were going on, but I just stayed in the moment. I just tried, I tried very, very hard just to keep moving along and just stay as patient as possible.”

Lee’s 67 came after he dropped a shot on the fourth but then rallied with six birdies. He said: “I have been struggling with my putting but I changed my putter and grip this week. I have gone to a reverse grip, and it worked out pretty well. I think I have averaged about 29 putts this week. I am always a good ball striker; bottom line is you have got to hole the putts.”  

American star Patrick Reed closed with his best round of the week, a 67, which was helped by a hole-in-one on the par-three 14th. He finished on eight-under in a tie for 31st.

“A lot of ups, and a lot of downs today,” said Reed. “It was weird. It was one of those days when I did not hit the ball well … then I go and make a hole-in-one on 14. It was just one of those days.

“I was actually between eight and nine on 14, we had 171 (yards). We were trying to figure out what way the wind was doing, so I hit a soft eight, and it never left the flagstick. That’s my third in tournaments, and the biggest one being right here as it kind of got the momentum going because it was really rough early on, I needed something to spark the round.”

Amateur James Leow, Singapore’s rising star, fired a 68 to also finish on eight-under. He ended as the leading local player ahead of Hiroshi Tai, also an amateur, who shot 73.

The Asian Tour heads to the International Series Korea next week Lotte Skyhill Country Club Jeju.

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