Sarit’s super 66 secures first-round lead in International Series England

Thailand’s Sarit Suwannarut fired an opening round five under-par 66 to take the lead in the International Series England at Close House.

He fired six birdies and one bogey on the Colt Course to finish the day in front of American Jason Kokrak and Jaewoong Eom from Korea – who carded 67s.

Germany’s Dominic Foos and Suradit Yongcharoenchai from Thailand returned 68s, while Ian Poulter was in group of 10 players on two under-par.

Sarit, who played a practice round at Close House with countryman Pavit Tangkamolprasert before last year’s International Series England at Slaley Hall, said: “Maybe that helped a little bit today, there was more rain that time.”

Starting on the back nine, he birdied 10 and 14 before a brilliant two on the 18th – the difficult 185-yard par three. He dropped a shot on the second, but recovered with gains on three, six and eight.

“I have been hitting it really well,” he said. “Today was just about the putting, it is all about the putting. Still need to fix my long putting, I might practice that.”

Sarit triumphed for the first time on the Asian Tour last year, at the season-ending Indonesian Masters, but has struggled this year, until a top-10 finish in the Mandiri Indonesia Open two weeks ago.

“I had an injury at the beginning of the year, at first it was a back injury, then I got sick, I got Covid, I also had neck and wrist problems,” said the 25-year-old. “I took a lot of time off to repair my body, to not get into trouble with injury again, I think that’s worked.”

Kokrak, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, finished strongly with birdies on 16 and 17.

“Very happy with that,” said the 38-year-old. “I thought I was going along well but not really making any putts. I was hitting it well but thought I should be more under par. Made a couple there at the end, happy with it. The course is wet and super long. I would love to see this place really bouncy.”

Foos made it through the Asian Tour Qualifying School in January and enjoyed his best opening round on the tour on Thursday.

He said: “It was a solid round of golf. I didn’t expect it to be windy or anything. I kept the ball low, hit fairways and greens, made some putts here and there and played the par fives well and that was about it. But it was a very solid round. I have been playing on Challenge Tour mainly, but it’s obviously great to play a big International Series event here, and next week as well.”

He finished second in a Challenge Tour event in Germany last month and is in confident mood.

“My game feels very good, and I know as soon as the putts drop, I am going to shoot low scores. I’ll just try and keep doing the same thing,” he added.

Englishman Poulter, who has won twice before on the Asian Tour, was happy to get in the clubhouse among the leaders after a rough second half.

“Damage limitation!” said Poulter. “Obviously, three under-par through nine and cruising, but I bogeyed the first hole, which was my 10th, a par five, which is suicide – frustrating to do that. I shanked it down four which is not ideal, nearly made par, and had another bogey on the par three with a pulled eight iron. Dropping three shots on that nine was poor.”

Compatriot and playing partner Lee Westwood, who is the attached professional at Close House, also looked set to be among the front runners, but made a double on his third from last hole and came in with a round of 70.

American Andy Ogletree, who currently leads the Asian Tour and International Series orders of merit, signed for a 72, while Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong, who claimed the Mandiri Indonesia Open two weeks ago, shot 73.

Tyneside’s James Wilson opened with a solid one under-par round of 70, while Slaley Hall-based Rhys Thompson finished at two over-par. Fellow qualifier Will Marshall and Close House-based Simon Robinson will likely require under-par rounds to make the cut.

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