Aphibarnrat flies Thai flag high with bogey-free tournament, Hend king of the style stakes

Chris Bailey 17/11/2017
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Kiradech Aphibarnrat is perched just two shots behind the leader.

Thailand and its proud people have gone through emotional turmoil this year – but one of the country’s most beloved sportsmen has risen above it.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat is the only man not to have holed a bogey heading into moving day at the DP World Tour Championship and, on eight-under par, is nicely perched just two shots behind leader Matthew Fitzpatrick.

His performance is the culmination of a recent string of excellent performances on the European Tour, though Thailand has never been far away from his thoughts.

Thais revere their monarchy and the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016 started a national year of mourning that only ended in October with his formal funeral.

All the while, 28-year-old Aphibarnrat has flown the Thai flag high and a fine season-ending display in Dubai would be no small way to honour the late king’s memory.

“I’ve tried to do my job. It hasn’t been a good year for Thailand after we lost the king, even though we have a new, fantastic one (Maha Vajiralongkorn),” said Aphibarnrat. “It was a big moment when we lost him, but I’ve tried to carry on and make Thailand proud.

“I’m very proud and really pleased to be part of tournament, there are only 60 players in the field this week and we are just a small country in Asia and I’m playing against the best players in the world.

“It’s my passion and it’s really tough to explain, but I’ll try and do my best to fly the Thai flag.”

Aphibarnrat is the only man to have not holed a bogey so far in the fray.

Aphibarnrat is the only man to have not holed a bogey so far in the fray.

For so long one of the more portly characters on tour, Aphibarnrat is ‘getting stronger and striking better’ after losing a whopping 10 kilos in the last four months thanks to a new fitness regime.

However, his form so far in the desert can be put down to his prowess on the greens as a final birdie on the 18th saw him submit a five-under par card of 67.

“The way I started the first two rounds, I’ve put myself in the position to do well now,” added the world No90, who checked into Earth course in 21st on the Race to Dubai.

“It was all about putting. This course is like a putting contest, but you have to hit a good shot as well. “When I hit a bad shot I crumble around the greens and get up and down, so overall my putting was the best part of the first two rounds.”

Best-dressed

Whereas a few braved loud colours – Patrick Reed and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, we’re looking at you – and Jon Rahm looked sleek in double turquoise, Scott Hend takes the prize.

In what can be best described as purple camouflage print, Hend found nowhere to hide on the course – not that he would have wanted to. A steady round of 71 has him just three shots off the pace.

Shot of the day

It was quite literally an up and down day for Paul Dunne, who at one point hit himself in the head with a putter in frustration on the way to a two-under day.

The Irishman had no such trouble with his short game on the par five seventh, as his pitch shot from about 35 feet out had just enough loft to roll sweetly into the hole upon landing for an eagle.

Dunne's perfect pitch shot for an eagle was the best of the entire lot.

Dunne’s perfect pitch shot for an eagle was the best of the entire lot.

Player of the day

By the way he traipsed off the 18th green, Tyrrell Hatton would not have slept easy last night as a joint course record of 62 eluded his grasp due to a mood-dampening bogey.

But he nevertheless cranked up the volume on what was shaping up to be a muted end of the season, having only made par on Thursday. No one came close to matching his card.

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Putting practice makes perfect for Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood

Chris Bailey 17/11/2017
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Fleetwood worked on his putting until sundown after a poor first-round.

Tommy Fleetwood worked on his putting until sundown after a frustrating first round and a new dawn breathed new life into the Race to Dubai leader’s challenge at the DP World Tour Championship.

The rubber stamp was hovering just above Fleetwood’s name on the European Tour’s Order of Merit before Justin Rose, in the space of two tournaments, gave his fellow Englishman something to worry about.

Back-to-back wins at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open had catapulted Rose into second and Fleetwood had clearly felt the 2013 US Open champion’s breath on his neck in Dubai during a nervy first round of 73.

An early start beckoned for Fleetwood on Friday and, in response, he drained four birdies on the front nine while most of the crowd were still filtering through the gates.

Another four birdies arrived after the turn and the 26-year-old put his feet up momentarily knowing his round of 65, putting him in a tie for 11th, keeps a third-placed Rose at arm’s length.

“Every day is a new day,” said Fleetwood. “I worked on my putting till dark on Thursday night. Although I actually made some decent putts, that was sort of something that I wanted to work on.

“I warmed up really well and my swing felt a lot better – Thursday was a big day for me. It was something that I had never experienced before and I got off to a nervy start.”

In contrast, nerves never seem to penetrate Rose’s aura but rare errors on the last saw him slip down to third and hand the initiative at halfway back to Fleetwood.

Experience remains on the side of Rose, who has won the Henry Vardon Trophy before, and Fleetwood knows he has a job on his hands to match his rival’s momentum.

“He’s so strong mentally and he knows what he’s doing,” Fleetwood said of Rose. “He’s been in a lot of situations like this.

“This is my first time. But I’m glad I’ve put my name up there. At least my name is somewhere now, rather than the wrong end of the leaderboard. You still have to go out and shoot scores. He’s on amazing form at the moment and I won’t put him past it carrying it on and shooting another one.

“But I’m glad within myself that I played well today. Yesterday, I left the course feeling a little bit – not down – but that it was a kind of sour day, so it’s nice.”

As it stands Fleetwood leads Rose by a mere 15,000 points as both enter the final straight in the race for a winner’s cheque worth $1.25m.

Fleetwood will resist the temptation of taking a calculator out on course with him – if all goes to plan, the maths will remain in his hands.

“You just can’t do it, it’s so easy to slip into working everything out,” added Fleetwood. “If I was further back I’d maybe think about it more because maybe my golf wouldn’t count so much.

“I’ve just got to do similar processes as I did on (Thursday night), you know what you need to work on and I can get away.

“I’m lucky that I have my fiancée and my son out so there’s no chance thinking about anything else when I’m with them, so that’s really helpful that I’m not sat in bed with my head spinning about where I’m at.”

Tyrrell Hatton’s temper has, on occasion, got the better of him but so far there has been no friction between him and his new caddie – who just so happens to be his best friend.

Since handing the bag to childhood pal Jonathan Bell at the British Masters in October, Hatton has put together six consecutive top-20 European Tour finishes including victories at the Alfred Dunhill Links and Italian Open.

And yesterday he shot back into contention at the DP World Tour Championship, with a bogey on the 18th his only blemish in a scintillating round of 63.

His on-course behaviour can rub people the wrong way – former pro Gary Evans called his body language during the British Masters earlier this season a ‘disgrace’ – but the presence of Bell is clearly releasing much of the tension.

“We get on really well and we’ve known each other since we were seven years old. Between shots we can have a bit of fun and chat about whatever, so it takes your mind off golf,” admitted Hatton.

“I’ve had two good caddies previous that had worked on tour for a while, but it’s just refreshing to have a friend on the bag.

“You’re spending a lot of time away from home, and when you’ve already got a good relationship, you can just have a bit of fun.”

Hatton is in the thick of an English vanguard at Jumeirah Golf Estates, sandwiched between leader Matthew Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose on nine-under par heading into day three.

But a challenge at the top looked unlikely after making par on Thursday before a late addition to the 25-year-old’s bag turned his tournament around.

“I sort of struggled (on Thursday),” said the world No17. “I was using a different putter, although it’s the same sort of shape I’ve been using. I think it was a slightly different weight and I wasn’t comfortable with it, along with my own body not feeling too great.

“I was struggling with cramps in my back and a horrific blister on my foot. It’s just the blister now, so a spoonful of cement at dinner and I’ll be all right tomorrow.”

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Fitzpatrick leads at the halfway stage of DP World Tour Championship as Fleetwood shines in Dubai

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In control: Matt Fitzpatrick.

Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick claimed the halfway lead in the DP World Tour Championship after Tommy Fleetwood ensured the Race to Dubai battle would go down to the wire.

Fitzpatrick carded a second consecutive 67 at Jumeirah Golf Estates to reach 10 under par, a shot ahead of the man he beat into second place last year, English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton.

Justin Rose, who would overhaul Fleetwood with a remarkable third consecutive victory on Sunday, was a shot further back alongside Julian Suri and Kiradech Aphibarnrat after a costly three-putt bogey on the 18th.

And that meant Fleetwood had regained the upper hand – albeit by a narrow margin – in his bid to end the season as European number one. A superb 65 lifted him 35 places in the 60-man field and to within two shots of Rose on six under.

“Today was pressure in a different way,” said Fleetwood, who has a lead of 256,738 points over Rose. “If I had shot level par or one under everything is completely out of my hands.

“I’ve kept myself in with a chance of the tournament but it’s only a big round if I keep it going. I don’t know whether Justin will be bothered or not. He is so strong mentally and he knows what he’s doing.

“He’s been in a lot of situations like this and this is my first time, but I’m glad I’ve put my name up there rather than the wrong end of the leaderboard.”

Fleetwood finished his round just moments before Rose started his own and after four birdies and a bogey in his first 15 holes, the former US Open champion needed to birdie the 18th for a share of the lead.

However, Rose missed the green with his approach and three-putted following a poor chip to end the day on a disappointing note.

“The three-wood on the last was an unforced error but then to compound it with a three-putt was very frustrating,” Rose said. “Every permutation is still in play. All I had to do was give myself a chance going into the weekend and that’s what I’ve done.”

Fitzpatrick’s 67 included five birdies and an eagle and ensured he has not been outside the top eight after his last 10 rounds in the event.

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” the 23-year-old said. “I’m not trying to win the Race to Dubai unfortunately. The main focus is on Justin and Tommy and that’s fine with me. If I can sneak in under the radar and win that would be great.”

Hatton was on course to equal or better Rose’s course record of 62 thanks to holing out from 144 yards on the fifth for an eagle and eight birdies, only to bogey the last.

The world number 17 did the same in the final round 12 months ago to lose out to Fitzpatrick.

After having to settle for a 63 this time he said: “It’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow on 18. That hole seems to hate me. Hopefully one day I’ll actually play it well.”

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