Categorized | 2013, Featured, November 2013

CIMB Classic 2013

By: Antony Sutton

Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Kiradech Aphibarnrat by R. Kurnia

Asia got to host its first ever PGA Tour FedExCup event in Malaysia and a field packed with top ranked players ensured the fans stayed riveted to the action over the four days and one morning of quality golf with a total purse on offer of $7 million.

The Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club played host to the CIMB Classic for the first time; the previous three years the event had been hosted by Mines Resort & Golf Club and each year had seen an Amercian golfer head for home with the winner’s cheque nestling in his wallet.

Would 2013, with points up for grab for the FedExCup, be any different?

It was certainly a strong field. Leading the way was veteran Phil Mickelson while Ernie Els, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia were among those hoping to make an impression among the 78 competitors.

But it was Ryan Moore who made the first impression. Fresh fromcompeting at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas, the 30 year old Moore refused to allow something as minor as jet lag get in the way of a good round and ended the first day with 10 birdies and a course record  -9, two shots clear of rival Keegan Bradley.

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson by R. Kurnia

The best performing Asian on the first day was Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat who shot 67 putting him four points off the pace.

Day two was all about Keegan Bradley. Making his first start of the 2013/2014 PGA Tour season, Bradley followed his first round seven under with a 66 putting him -13 , four clear of Moore, who had gone round in par have bogeyed the fifth, 13th and 16th holes, and Kiradech who had gone round in 69. The Thai was level with Chris Stroud on eight under.

Bradley, a huge Red Sox fan, was disappointed to be missing the World Series but he was happy with his day on the course.

‘’ Some of the best golf I’ve played in a long time.  So this was a really fun couple of days.  Obviously, I’m in a great spot here with two rounds to go.’’

The 24 year old Thai had started the tournament impressively, getting birdies on the first three holes on both days to set the tone. Kiradech was certainly familiar with the course having won the Maybank Malaysian Open earlier in the year by one stroke and he looked to have continued his fine form into Day 3 when he birdied the third for the third day and followed that with birdies on the fourth and a double birdie on the fifth.

But a pattern started emerging for the flamboyant Thai. The back nine was proving to be less successful for him with two birdies and two bogies cancelling each other on the opening rounds. Day 3 was no different. Despite starting with another birdie on the 10th he double bogeyed the 14th to undo his good work on the front nine.

He recognized the difficulties he was having on the back nine but overall was happy with his performance. ‘’ I feel really pleased with the way I’m playing.  It was a good start, three days in a row on the front nine, but struggling a bit on the back.  Three rounds, kind of mixed golf on the back nine.’’

Day 3 was one to forget for Bradley as he was unable to build on his heroics of the Friday. While hitting a reasonable enough 35 on the first nine, his game fell apart with four bogies on the back nine, including a double, seeing him end with a 76 putting him three shots behind Day 3 leaders Chris Stroud and Moore.

Despite competing in his 194th tournament, the experienced Stroud had never gone in to the clubhouse top of the leader board after 54 holes before but he ended the third day sharing the lead, 12 under, with Ryan Moore. Kiradech and Gary Woodland were a stroke behind going into the final day.

The final day was marred by rain with play stopped for nearly three and a half hours at one stage while a storm passed overhead.

I spent the day watching Kiradech. Despite the form book suggesting an American would win, they had after all won the previous three CIMB Classics, I was enjoying watching the Thai. He played with a swagger but not arrogance and a smile, or on the back nine, a grimace, was never far from his face, a far cry from the usual stoic looking individuals, it was difficult not to warm to the guy.

He was certainly consistent, three birdies putting him top of the leaderboard but Gary Woodland matched him stroke for stroke and by the back nine, the birdies had gone. Kiradech was hitting par comfortably enough but his putting was still out of sorts, all too often coming up inches short when a birdie was within reach. You could see the agony etched on his face.

Ryan Moore

Ryan Moore by R. Kurnia

During the rain break he stuck around the dining area while other players headed for the locker room and their families or, in the case of Ryan Moore, played Candy Crush.

‘’I’m stuck on this level. I haven’t been able to get past it in six weeks. It’s driving me crazy,’’ he said.

But Kiradech happily posed for photographs and signed autographs for media and staff despite knowing his chance of success had properly slipped away.

Playing in the group just ahead of Moore and Woodland, as he approached the green on the 18th the usually reserved gallery rose as one and cheered their man. I wasn’t alone it seemed. Golf can seem kind of relentless and passionless at times but Kiradech seemed to break the mould. His reactions told a hundred stories; he could never play poker!

He holed his put, the crowd cheered once more and he gave a traditional Thai wai in return. Coming just behind were Moore and Woodland but for a few moments the cherubic young Thai was the center of attention.

Kiradech ended on 13 under, a stroke behind Moore and Woodland who would need a play off to separate them but the Thai had laid down a marker for the future.

As for the play off. The rain had not just blighted the final day. It also meant the play off would be played on the Monday morning. Which meant your humble correspondent got to follow the one off 18th hole on Twitter in the departure lounge of the airport, waiting for my budget airline flight home! Congratulations to Ryan Moore.

About Antony Sutton

I am a freelance writer who has been hanging round South East Asia for about 20 years. Unfortunately, I haven’t picked up a club in anger since my days in Bangladesh on the Kurmitola course where I benefited greatly from the words and wisdom of Nelson, the one armed caddy. Today, I keep threatening to head to the local driving range to shake off the cobwebs but haven’t yet made good with that promise. Instead I content myself with a few quiet, cold beers once in a while and helping my son become a good Arsenal fan!

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