Thailand’s golden oldie Boonchu Ruangkit and Filipino teenager Miguel Tabuena, who are 39 years apart in their ages, produced masterful four-under-par 67s to share the first round lead at the Queen’s Cup yesterday. In a battle of the generations, the 56-year-old Boonchu, one of Asia’s living legends, rolled back the years with a brilliant bogey-free round to match 17-year-old Tabuena, who negotiated the challenging Santiburi Samui Country Club with six birdies against two bogeys.
Big-hitting Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Rattanon Wannasrichan ensured a strong local presence on the leaderboard of the US$300,00 Asian Tour event with 68s for tied third place with Korea’s Baek Seuk-hyun. Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng, Korean newcomer Hong Sang-soon and Australia’s Adam Groom ended the day a further shot back. Boonchu, a five-time Asian Tour winner and the European Senior Tour Order of Merit champion following four victories in 2010, was rock solid at the tricky course, which is nicknamed the Samui Beast.
“No bogeys today, I’m very happy. I don’t think I’ve played ever a round here without any bogeys. All the time I have bogeys or double bogeys,” said Boonchu.
He was in trouble only once on the opening hole following a wayward drive but the Thai saved par. Boonchu then birdied the third, 11th, 15th and 17th holes, with the longest putt coming from 12 feet to raise the local cheers.
“My tee shots were very confident today. I’ve got a lot of experience and mentality is important. I can still play a stable game. On some courses, I can compete against the young boys,” said Boonchu, who was given the honour of striking the opening tee shot when the Asian Tour was established as a player-led organisation in 2004.
“I still think I have a chance to win on the Asian Tour. I’m happy to see young boys come up. But I want to show the young boys that an old man like me can still play,” smiled Boonchu, who will aim to become the oldest winner on Tour as the current record is held by Korea’s Choi Sang-ho (2005 Maekyung Open, 50 years and 145 days old).
Fresh from a second professional victory on his domestic circuit at the weekend, a confident Tabuena rode on the momentum to give himself a shot at winning a maiden Asian Tour title.
“I’m pretty happy. I think it’s the momentum from last week and I just stuck to my game plan,” said Tabuena, rated as one of the region’s rising stars.
“I won the two events with the best players in the Philippines. Juvic [Pagunsan] was in the field, Frankie [Minoza], Angelo [Que], Mars [Pucay] were there. The confidence is there right now. I hope it stays there for the rest of the week.”
Tabuena has already taken quite a few knocks in his fledgling career but the bubbly Filipino believes the experiences have done him good. He missed a full Tour card by finishing US$250 behind the 61st ranked player last season and at the ICTSI Philippine Open in February, he stumbled with a closing 81 after being in contention to become the event’s youngest ever champion. “It took me a long time to recover,” reflected Tabuena of his near miss at home. “I thought I had it but Mardan (Mamat) played so steady, like a veteran to win. I told myself that ‘you have many more tournaments to go, you’re still young, and to keep working at your game.’”
Three top-three finishes over the past seven years on the holiday isle of Samui is motivating Prayad to push for victory at the Queen’s Cup, which is revered by the local players as the event is held in honour of the Queen of Thailand, Queen’s Sirikit.
The 46-year-old said his putter needs to behave if he is to hoist the trophy on Sunday. “I couldn’t putt. What I saw and what I did with the putting stroke, it wasn’t linked. I missed two short putts for pars,” lamented Prayad, who is a six-time Asian Tour winner.
Groom enjoyed a blazing finish with three closing birdies to move into contention. “The front nine, I was two over, didn’t play great and hit a couple of loose shots. I took advantage of the easier holes on the back nine and it was a nice way to finish with three birdies,” said the Australian, who is searching for a first win in Asia.
“This is probably one of the hardest courses we play all year. It’s demanding off the tees and the greens are tricky to read. So I’m happy with that, it’s a good start.”