France’s Lionel Weber fired a solid five-under 67 to grab a share of the lead as rising teen star Victoria Tip-Aucha finished six shots off the pace after the opening round of the MENA Tour’s MahaSamutr Masters on Tuesday.
Weber, an established member of the Asian Tour and a Banyan Golf Club ambassador, reeled off seven birdies against two bogeys to join Thai Varanyu Rattanaphaibulkij and England’s MENA Tour ace Zane Scotland on top a crowded leaderboard.
Lee Corfield, a four-time winner on the MENA Tour, overcame an early bogey on the first to card a 68 that left him in a three-man group tied for fourth along with fellow Englishman Jordan Garnish and Thai Suradit Yongcharoenchai.
Sponsored by MahaSamutr Country Club Hua Hin and supported by Singha Water, the tournament saw 15-year-old US prodigy Victoria, of Thai heritage, make history by becoming the first woman to tee it up in a MENA Tour event.
She made the turn at level par after making a birdie on the opening hole, but two double bogeys, one each at 10th and 12th, dropped her back. Unruffled by the mid-round wobble, she picked up three shots in her last five holes to be tied 41st in the field.
“I started off well, but got to the point where I was four-over. I think I did well to bring it back to one-over, which was good,” said Victoria, who has already won five times on the Thailand girls golf circuit this year.
Weber felt local knowledge came in handy as he seized the early initiative.
“Being a Banyan Club ambassador, I have played this course many times. It’s always a pleasure to play on this great track,” he said. “I just didn’t putt very well, but still made some birdies out there which was quite pleasing.”
Thailand’s Rattanaphaibulkij mixed six birdies with a bogey while Scotland, a 10-time winner on the Tour, went bogey free on a day when 29 players, including 10 from Thailand, broke par.
Dubai-based Indian amateur Rayhan Thomas, who is supported by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, returned a 70 to lead the amateur division on two-under, one ahead of the Thai trio of Runchanapong Youprayong, Worathon Zeng and 14-year-old Phichaksn Maichon, who recently won the 13-14 division at the 2016 Junior World championships in the United States.
Thomas had reached four-under for his round after 12 holes, but two late bogeys – on the fifth and seventh holes – denied him an even better finish.
Another Asian Tour regular, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, was alongside Thomas and seven others at two-under 70.
UAE’s Ahmed Al Musharrekh endured a difficult opening round, signing for an 81 that left him a mountain to climb to make the cut.