Asian Tour 2021: Korean keeps lead to ramp up bid for first title

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Korean Bio Kim’s bid to win for the first time on the Asian Tour gathered momentum on Friday (Dec. 3) when he took the halfway lead in the $1 million Laguna Phuket Championship at Laguna Golf Phuket.

The Korean added a four-under-par 66 to his first round 62 to lead on 12 under by two shots from Thailand’s Chanachok Dejpiratanamongkol, in with a 67.

Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai is a stroke further back after firing 65, one better than his compatriots Panuphol Pittayarat and Natipong Srithong, who both shot 64.

The tournament is the second and final leg of the Asian Tour Phuket Series, which has marked to resumption of the Tour after a 20-month COVID-19 enforced break.

Bio Kim of Korea [Photo credit: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour]
Bio Kim of Korea [Photo credit: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour]

Kim had a commanding three-shot lead with two to play but surprisingly hit trouble on the par-four 17th, where he made double. His tee shot went right into pine trees and from there he found woodwork twice while trying to punch out before reaching the green with his fourth. But he bounced back brilliantly on the par-four 18th, hitting a nine iron from 160 yard to 12 feet ‒ which he duly converted for a birdie.

“It was one of those day when I could have done much better but luckily today is over and I will regroup tomorrow,” the 31 year old said.

“And hopefully I do a little better than today. I will just keep my head down, be focused and be present; that’s who I am and that’s how I am playing the game of golf. And hopefully good things happen on the weekend,” he added.

Kim was expected to be the next big superstar of Korean golf over a decade ago after winning both the Korean and Japan Amateur Championships in 2008, before finishing top of the Korean PGA Tour Order of Merit two years later and then securing his PGA Tour card aged 20.

But he lost his card after one year there, played the Web.com Tour (now called the Korn Ferry Tour) before competing mainly in Korea ‒ where he has won six times, including the LG Signature Players Championship last month.

That victory and a joint fourth placing in last week’s Blue Canyon Phuket Championship suggests the Korean ‒ who graduated from the Asian Tour Qualifying School in 2020 ‒ is building towards a second coming.

“I have made a lot of putts for the last few months. My putter has been co-operating, and I have been hitting the ball better than I used to for the last few years, I think that helps as well. I have just been sticking to what I have been doing,” he said.

“Maybe the big difference is my second child who was born last October. I have two daughters now, hopefully I can give them good things on the weekend.”

Chanachok’s affinity for Laguna Golf Phuket continued after he made an eagle, a birdie and for the second day did not drop a shot.

The Thai golfer won the Singha Phuket Open here in 2017, on the Asian Development Tour, in brilliant fashion finishing 27 under.

“It’s not easy but it’s just that I did not have big trouble. I have been in good spots for up and downs,” the 27 year old said.

“This week my up and down game is really good, and my iron game is also good, but the best thing for me is putting, I have not three putted yet.”

Chanachok has good reason to be playing well as his wife is expecting in February.

“Right now I have to focus on my game. I think after this year I might pause my game because our baby is coming next year. And I think I will also open a shop in Bangkok, a golf club fitting shop,” he added.

He’s also in fine form thanks to losing 15 kgs over 12 months after changing to a vegan diet.

Chanachok also claimed the Singha Championship in 2017 on the All Thailand Golf Tour for his only other success as a professional.

Two-time Asian Tour winner Panuphol, better known as “Coconut”, rocketed into contention with four birdies on the trot from 10th followed by an eagle on the par-five 14th.

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