Thailand's Chinnarat Phadungsil set the stage alight when he opened his campaign at the USD 2.3 million Avantha Masters with a sensational 11-under-par 61 on Thursday. The 25-year-old was only one shot away from equalling the Asian Tour's low 18-hole score record as he amassed only 22 putts in his round to take a five-shot lead over five players bunched in second place at the Jaypee Greens Golf Course.
Bunched at the No. 2 spot were Thailand's Chapchai Nirat and current Order of Merit leader Chawalit Plaphol, India's Abhijit Chadha, China's Liang Wen-chong and Sweden's Magnus A Carlsson, who carded matching 66s at the Indian showpiece, tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI).
Chinnarat became the youngest winner on the Asian Tour when he won his first title on home soil in 2005 at the age of 17 years and five days. Eight years later and armed with three titles on the region's premier Tour, the 25-year-old continues to create headlines with his performances on the golf course.
"It's my best-ever round! My previous best was a nine-under par in China in 2007. So it's definitely a great feeling today," said Chinnarat.
Chinnarat marked his card with three birdies to reach the turn in 33. He then left all his rivals in his wake when he blitzed his outward-nine with an incredible 28.
"On the front nine I was hitting a lot of hook shots, so my putter really saved me. But on the back nine, I drove the ball better and my irons were also better, so that's the reason why I scored so well," said Chinnarat.
"Today my game was very good so I will keep going," added the Thai.
Local hope Chadha brought the early cheers in the morning when he finished as the clubhouse leader then. The 21-year-old rose to prominence after winning the PGTI Rookie of the Year Award last year and is excited about his prospects this week.
"I'm feeling really good about this week. I was just raring to go and get on with it. I just want to go out and play. I like this golf course as it suits my game. Winning the title last year on the PGTI was a good feeling," said Chadha, who marked his flawless card with six birdies.
Having only turned professional last year, Chadha was part of the four-member Indian team that won the silver medal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. While he enjoys playing on the big stage, the Indian is not cowed by the presence of the big guns in the stellar field.
"I don't feel the pressure of playing in the Avantha Masters for the first time. The experience of playing many big international events during my amateur days has really helped me," said Chadha.
"As an amateur I played a lot of events overseas as part of the Indian team. The atmosphere at these tournaments was similar to that at the Avantha Masters in terms of international participation and the crowds," said Chadha.
Liang, who earned the distinction of being the first mainland Chinese to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2007, continued his love affair with India when he returned with a 66 to continue his push for his third Asian Tour victory.
The Chinese last win on the Asian Tour was in India where he carded a 12-under-par 60 to set a new low 18-hole score in the opening round of the Indian Open in 2008.
"It was a good day and I'm very pleased with how I've played. The afternoon conditions where it was not so windy played to my advantage and I'm glad I took full advantage of it," said Liang enjoyed a flawless round marked by six birdies.
Leading first round scores:
Scores after round 1 of the Avantha Masters being played at the par 72, 7347 Yards Jaypee Greens course (a- denotes amateur):
61 - Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA).
66 - Abhijit CHADHA (IND), Chawalit PLAPHOL (THA), Magnus A CARLSSON (SWE), Chapchai NIRAT (THA), Wen-chong LIANG (CHN).
67 - Joonas GRANBERG (FIN), Jaakko MAKITALO (FIN), David DRYSDALE (SCO), Thomas AIKEN (RSA), Rikard KARLBERG (SWE), Scott HEND (AUS), Rashid KHAN (IND), Scott BARR (AUS).
68 - David HOWELL (ENG), Peter WHITEFORD (SCO), Pablo LARRAZABAL (ESP), Kiradech APHIBARNRAT (THA), S.S.P. CHOWRASIA (IND), Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND), Anirban LAHIRI (IND), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Emilliano GRILLO (ARG), Robert COLES (ENG), Brett RUMFORD (AUS), Mardan MAMAT (SIN), Ashok KUMAR (IND), Maximilian KIEFFER (GER), BAEK Seuk-hyun (KOR).
70 - Thongchai JAIDEE (THA)
76 - Colin MONTGOMERIE (SCO).