KARACHI: It was a difficult putt. On the last hole of the Karachi Golf Club, a long, tough par-4, Muhammad Munir’s approach shot landed at the edge of the green. He needed a birdie to stay in the hunt for the title in the UMA-CNS Open, An Asian Tour event.
With a large gallery watching, Munir went for it only to finish agonisingly close. The six leaders were yet to finish but for Pakistani fans the championship was over.
Munir, who raised local hopes with four consecutive birdies after the turn, had to contend for a fourth-place finish behind a Thai trio spearheaded by Tirawat Kaewsiribandit, a 28-year-old who was crowned UMA-CNS Open champion here at the Karachi Golf Club on Sunday.
It was a bogey on the 15th hole – a challenging par-4 on the Red course – that turned out to be a costly miss for Munir, who finished tied-fourth at the 2006 Pakistan Open, which was also played at the KGC.
Despite failing in his attempt for a first Asian Tour win, Munir was pleased with his showing in the US$300,000 championship.
“I played good golf today. It has been really great to be able to play alongside Asian Tour players. The atmosphere of the tournament has been very good and it felt great to be able to play in this tournament. I’m very happy, especially with my final round,” he said.
“My driving and putting were very good. After the turn, I scored four birdies in a row and that felt great.
“I am up for the competition and I will try my best to qualify for the Asian Tour next year,” he stressed.
Apart from Munir, another Pakistan who stood out in the event was Matloob Ahmed. After a somewhat sedate start, Matloob finally got into his element in the final round, carding 68 to finish with a total of 280 (-8).
“I had a good tournament. I am very happy for Pakistani golfers and that we have an Asian Tour event here. I didn’t putt well for my first three rounds but today has been much better. I finished top-10, so I’m really happy about that,” he said.
“A lot of players from the Asian Tour are my good friends. I played in the last two Pakistan Open tournaments, in 2006 and 2007. Recently, I’ve been playing in Pakistan because of lack of sponsorship opportunities. But after this top-10 finish, I’ll be putting together some plans to play in Thailand. I’ll also be trying for the Asian Tour Qualifying School that’s happening the end of this year.”
Pakistan No. 1 Shabbir Iqbal finished at 282 after a round of 70 on the final day while Peshswar’s Muhammad Naeem carded 72 to finish with a total of 283.
Meanwhile, Thai pros continued their domination in the final round.
Tirawat played error-free golf to card a final-round three-under-par 69 to win the championship and a winner’s cheque of US$54,000. His bogey-free round was highlighted by birdies on the third, eighth and 11th. He signed for a 12-under-par 276 total to win his maiden Asian Tour title by one shot at the historic KGC.
Tirawat received the trophy from Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi at a well-attended prize distribution ceremony. Also present at the occasion were Sohail Shams, CEO United Marine Agencies, Hussain Haroon, Vice President KGC, Asian Tour, KGC and PN officials and others.
Tirawat turned his season around in victorious fashion after being plagued by a lower back injury in the majority of the year.
“I’m really happy about my victory, the first on the Asian Tour. I’ve been having problems with my lower back for the majority of this year. But, I started to train up my strength and condition and it was obviously worked for me. I am playing without injury and without pain, and that has made me enjoy my golf a lot more,” he commented.
“I do feel the pressure going into the final few holes as the leader. However, playing alongside my countrymen has helped me relax a little bit, as we can all speak the same language. I said that I am aiming to win the tournament, and now I’ve done it.
“I have never thought about winning the tournament until the last putt. Anything can happen and it could have resulted in a play-off. Now that I’ve won, I’ll enter the tournaments remaining in the year with more confidence.
Compatriots Jakraphan Premsirigorn and Namchok Tantipokhakul share second place after carding 72 and 73 respectively.
Jakraphan got off to a good start with a birdie and with neck-and-neck with eventual winner, Tirawat. However, a double bogey on 13th seemed to have unravelled his round, but he recovered with a birdie on 16th. Another birdie on 18th would have forced a play-off, but he could only manage a par.
Namchok, the 54-hole leader, made an uncharacteristic double bogey on hole sixth, but he managed to focus on his game and kept pace with his flight mates. He got back into contention with a birdie on 13th, but could not find that extra gear in the remainder of his round.
Liu Yanwei of China took advantage of a hot putter to rally to a tied-fifth finish, his highest in 2018. He got his round going early in the day as he made four consecutive birdies from holes two to five. The 21-year-old took only 25 putts in the final round.
Scores after round 4 of the UMA CNS Open Golf Championship:
276 – Tirawat KAEWSIRIBANDIT (THA) 71-69-67-69.
277 – Jakraphan PREMSIRIGORN (THA) 69-68-68-72, Namchok TANTIPOKHAKUL (THA) 67-70-67-73.
278 – Muhammad MUNIR (PAK) 69-69-72-68.
280 – LIU Yanwei (CHN) 74-69-70-67, Matloob AHMED (PAK) 72-70-70-68, Suradit YONGCHAROENCHAI (THA) 69-68-72-71.
281 – Gaurav Pratap SINGH (IND) 73-74-67-67, Paul HARRIS (USA) 73-72-67-69, James Ryan LAM (PHI) 68-73-70-70, Settee PRAKONGVECH (THA) 72-69-69-71.
282 – Muhammad SHABBIR (PAK) 68-73-71-70, Matt KILLEN (ENG) 70-74-68-70, Siddikur RAHMAN (BAN) 71-70-70-71.
283 – Niall TURNER (IRL) 72-74-70-67, Muhammad NAEEM (PAK) 71-72-68-72.