Struggles bring the best out of Liao, Ariffin in Taifong Open

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Liao Huan-jyun - TheGolfingHub
Liao Huan-jyun said he had technical issues heading into this week, but that was certainly not evident today as he made three birdies on the front and four on the back. Photo: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour

Chinese-Taipei’s Liao Huan-jyun and Shahriffuddin Ariffin from Malaysia both fired matching bogey-free seven-under-par 65s to take the first-round lead in the US$400,000 Taiwan Glass Taifong Open today – in the penultimate event of the season on the Asian Tour.

They lead from Thailand’s Itthipat Buranatanyarat, who carded a 66 here at Taifong Golf Club and is ahead of seven players in with 67s: Prom Meesawat, Poom Saksansin, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit, Natipong Srithong, and Chapchai Nirat, also all from Thailand, plus local players Liu Yu-jui and Liu Yung-hua.

Related: Lee Chieh-po to cash in on home advantage in Taifong Open

Liao said he had technical issues heading into this week, but that was certainly not evident today as he made three birdies on the front and four on the back, like Ariffin.

 

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The 22-year-old, who has been a professional since 2021 and plays on the Taiwan PGA Tour, could not have rediscovered his game at a better time as the Taiwan Glass Taifong Open is making its debut appearance on the Asian Tour, having been promoted from the Asian Development Tour (ADT), where it was played for seven successful seasons.

“I played really well today, from off the tees to putting, everything went well for me,” said Liao, who claimed his first title on the local Tour in September and is eighth on the Order of Merit, suggesting he could be a threat this week.

“This is my third time playing the Taifong Open. I can say I’m pretty familiar with this course. We play here every year. Wasn’t expecting to shoot such a low round, there weren’t much wind this morning, so I guess that was an advantage. 

“My ball flight was off coming into this week. I was trying to make adjustments so really surprised with my score today. Hitting fairways is key on this course.”

Ariffin is one of a large number of players here this week trying to keep their playing privileges for the 2024 season. He graduated to the Tour by claiming fourth place on last year’s ADT Order of Merit – helped by winning the Selangor Masters – but now faces a battle to stay as he is 91st on the Merit list.

 

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Only one more event remains after this week, the Saudi Open presented by Public Investment Fund, with the top-65 receiving their cards.

“Just the start I needed,” said the Malaysian, who is playing his 17th event of the season.

“This is a difficult course, I am just keeping it in the safe positions. I am here to try and keep my card. That’s the goal.”

His round was practically identical to his co-leader as he birdied four of the same holes, including 17 and 18, although he played in the afternoon and, unlike Liao, he began on 10.

Itthipat is another battling to retain his card as he is 87th on the standings.

“I hope I will get my card from this week, but I am not putting pressure on myself,” said Itthipat, who chipped in from 25 yards for an eagle on 18 and made six birdies and two bogeys.

“It was a good round for me but not the best round. I got two bogeys before finishing but [those two holes] are too easy for bogey.

“In Chinese-Taipei the course is normally difficult because of the wind. But now it is good weather for me. I am trying to be happy and just enjoy the game. When I have played here in the past on the ADT this is my favourite course. I am really happy to be here.”

Prom is in 81st place on the Merit list and needs a good finish this week. Like Itthipat he is taking it in his stride.

 

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He said: “I am not worrying about it. I started playing well since Singapore and I just want to play more to find my momentum, get ready for next year, and just come here and enjoy, see my Taiwanese friends as it’s like a second home. We have long time friends here and everyone was telling me I should come, I should come.”

He started on 10 and got off to a poor start when he made a double bogey on the 13th.

“I chipped out from the rough and I hit it pretty good, but I had a bad break, it had a bad bounce and went over the green and I had a lost ball on that hole,” he said.

Birdies on 17 and 18 helped him turn in even before a sensational second nine made up of five birdies, including on the last three, moved him into contention.

 

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Poom finished later in the day, and it looks like he intends to keep American Andy Ogletree waiting a little longer before he is confirmed as the Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.

The Thai golfer, who won the Yeangder TPC here in Chinese-Taipei in September, is fifth on the Merit list and is the only player who can mathematically catch Ogletree.

However, he first needs to win this week to have any chance of catching the runaway Merit list leader, who claimed two International Series events this season, in Qatar and England.