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By any name, Thai player stars
If you didn't recognize Kiradech Aphibarnrat's name when you saw it up near the top of the PGA Championship leaderboard early Thursday, it’s probably just because you know him by his other name, Anujit Hirunratanakorn.
Wait, still not ringing any bells? Well, here’s what you need to know about the 24-year-old Thai pro who carded a 2-under 68 in Thursday’s first round:
According to Gorilla Golf Blog, Aphibarnrat changed his name from Anujit Hirunratanakorn before turning pro in 2008. His Asian Tour bio says that Aphibarnrat “is nicknamed Asia’s version of John Daly due to his hefty physique and go-for-broke style of play.”
According to an Akron Beacon Journal profile, Aphibarnrat — who goes by “Arm” — "is listed at 5-foot-8 and 229 pounds, although his manager concedes he’s more like 265." He averaged 293.9 yards on drives at the Bridgestone last week and he also smokes on the course:
Aphibarnrat spends most of his time on the Asian Tour, where he has won twice, including March's Maybank Malaysian Open. That win qualified him for the Bridgestone — a tournament that also happened to mark his first trip to the United States.
After entering the weekend in 10th place at 3-under at Firestone, Aphibarnrat faltered in the third and fourth rounds, with a 73 and 75 dropping him into a tie for 40th, alongside Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood. The win earned him $61,500.
Last year, Aphibarnrat won $205,128.67 in 14 events on the Asian Tour. This season, he's won $664,620.99 in seven events — making him the tour money leader — the bulk of which ($458,330) came in his win at the Maybank Malaysian Open, which was shortened to three rounds by rain.
On Thursday, Aphibarnrat tallied three birdies — on No. 9, No. 10 and No. 13 — and one bogey, on No. 12. And wouldn’t you know it, that was enough to beat Tiger Woods, who finished at 1-over after a double bogey on No. 9, his final hole of the day.
Afterward, Aphibarnrat said he didn't have a target score in mind for the first round, but rather, that he just wanted to play his game.
"I still just tried to play my best golf," Aphibarnrat told reporters . "Doesn't have any target. Just take on the game plan and take on the fairway and give me a lot of chances to putt."
It’s hard not to like the burly, self-deprecating Thai, and he’ll certainly be a fan favorite going forward in this tournament. (I mean, look what he said about himself at the Bridgestone: "I don’t work out a lot. I just try to play good golf. You don’t have to have a good body for that." Who can’t relate to that guy?)
But, as was the case with Shiv Kapur at the Open Championship, there’s reason to believe Aphibarnrat may not be around for the long haul.
Aphibarnrat played in his first PGA Tour major last month at the Open after making the field with a win at an Asia regional qualifier. He fired a first-round 72 at Muirfield, but missed the cut after shooting 85 in a second round that started with a triple-bogey.
However, Aphibarnrat hopes to avoid that fate when he tees off in Friday’s second round at Oak Hill.
"The Open was tough, same here," he said. "I lost confidence really quickly (at The Open) after I make bogey on the first hole and the rest of the 17 holes is starting — driving and putting. This week, don't want to force myself. I can't say what score I want to shoot. Just take on the game plan.”
Just call him "Eye chart" for short.