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Golf | European Tour

Fearless Thongchai tames DCC



Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee defied blustery conditions and a challenging Durban Country Club layout to scorch his way to a seven-under par round of 65, and put significant daylight between himself and the chasing pack at the Volvo Golf Champions on Thursday.

Jaidee, who gained entry into the event courtesy of his win at last year’s ISPS Handa Wales Open, began his charge with three birdies in the first five holes.

He then calmly rolled in a 25-foot putt for birdie at the seventh, and another birdie at the par-five eighth hole helped to round off an outward nine of 31.

The assault on the par-72 Durban course continued, as further birdies ensued at the 10th and 15th holes. His first blemish of the day came after at the 17th, although it required a six-foot putt to limit the damage to one stroke.

However, an up-and-down from the greenside bunker at the 18th yielded Jaidee’s eighth birdie of the day, and it leaves the Thai sitting pretty at seven-under par.

“It’s very, very exciting to come here because I've never been to South Africa before. And also we came here and looked at the courses, and they’re hard to get. Yesterday we practised but the wind direction is different than today. I'm thinking about using a lot of irons from the tee, and that's most important,” a content Jaidee said.

“We used a lot of irons from the tee. I made good chances to get on the green, and then we are very good today because we putted very well. We made very good up-and-downs too, and made long putts from everywhere. We had 24 or 25 putts today, and I haven’t putted this well in a long time. So I’m very happy to finish seven under in the first round of 2013.”

As winds gusted in excess of 35 km/h and the rain teemed down as the afternoon wore on, many fell by the wayside. Jaidee, however, simply stuck to his task and called on all his experience to thwart the difficult conditions.

“We have no choice. Everyone has to play in this, and I enjoy it, “ Jaidee noted. “We played most of the time in Europe in conditions like this. Like Scotland, there was a lot of wind, and this is a links course - it's almost the same. I won in the same wind like this in Wales, and it was also raining in that one. I think today is a very good score, 7-under par.”

The adverse conditions in Durban on Thursday are not the biggest challenge Jaidee has overcome in his life though.

The 43 year-old joined the Royal Thai Army in 1989 at the age of just 20 as a paratrooper, and he believes the hardships he faced there stood him in good stead for when he eventually turned pro in 1999.

“Well, the army helped me a lot because training is very hard. We are landing and waking up at five ‘o clock every day,” the diminutive Jaidee recalled.

“Everything we do - it's army. It’s really hard training. Training is two years for the paratrooper – about six months for the paratrooping and also three months for the ranger. But it helped me a lot with things like mental strength and how to think on the course.

"It also helped me a lot with how to concentrate and focus, and that's the most important thing. And now my body is getting stronger, even though I’m 43. I jumped about 60 times in 12 or 13 years. It's not a lot, but you have to jump six times a year – it’s the rule.”

Since he left the army, Jaidee has built a career that has paved the way for Thai golf.

Five European Tour victories and more than €8 million in earnings reflects one of Asia’s great sporting successes, and after a first-round blitz in Durban, he will have every reason to believe he can snare a sixth title come Sunday.

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