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Favorites lurk on bunched leaderboard after Day 1 of the Asia-Pacific Amateur

CHONBURI, Thailand — The biggest news on Day 1of the 13th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship concerned the 14th edition of the event. Oct. 26-29 next year and for the first time since 2014, the AAC will be played over the storied composite course—12 holes from the West course; six from the East—at Royal Melbourne in Australia.

As has become the norm, the 2023 champion will receive an invitation to compete in the 2024 Masters and the 152nd Open, while the runner(s)-up will gain a place in Final Qualifying for the Open.

“We are proud to announce the return of the AAC to Royal Melbourne,” said Martin Slumbers, R&A CEO, who run the championship alongside the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) and the Masters. “We are committed to elevating amateur golf across the Asia-Pacific and taking this championship back to one of the world’s best courses.”

All of which is for the future. More immediately, many of the pre-tournament favorites gathered at Amata Spring Country Club just outside Bangkok made their collective presence felt by the end of a day where rain constantly threatened but eventually came to naught.

Bo Jin of China, T-3 last year in Dubai and the younger brother of 2015 champion Cheng Jin—is looking down on the other 119 competitors after an opening-round 65 that included six birdies, an eagle and only one dropped shot. The 20-year-old junior at Oklahoma State leads by two shots, but as many as 18 others broke 70 and 40 broke par. “Bunched” is the word we are looking for to describe the leaderboard.

Perhaps most significantly, the highest-ranked player in the field, Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat, is amongst the three-strong group on 67. But others with legitimate ambitions of ultimate success are also lurking nearby. Arizona State graduate James Leow from Singapore matched Chantananuwat’s score. Three members of the formidable seven-strong Australian squad—Harrison Crowe, Karl Vilips and Joshua Greer—shot in the 60s. And, even more impressively, all six of Jin’s compatriots shot par or better.

All of which suggests much more is likely to happen over the next three days. So far at least, this is little more than traditional opening round jostling for position.

“Two behind is OK,” said Chantananuwat, neatly summing up his situation. “I’ve played in professional events. You don’t win on the first day. You don’t win until the 72nd hole. I’ve learned that from personal experience. I tried to win on Saturday, and it did not work out.”

Still, the local man—if such a term can be attached to a 15-year old, no matter how mature—left the course a little disappointed. While he was quick to dispel the notion that he could have “run away” from Jun’s score, his voice failed to conceal his regret. Armed with ball-striking tee-to-green that produced a plethora of birdie opportunities, Chantananuwat’s score could and perhaps should have approached the 12-under-par 60 he shot in his only practice round.

“My putting is usually on point,” he said. “It’s just case of whether they go in or not. But today it was a bit below average, which is probably the result of me not having a proper practice session in the past three weeks because of school and travelling. My iron game has been the biggest variable in my whole career. But it is solid now. I’ve figured it out somehow. Something just clicked. Now I need to put it into the rest of my game. Putting is the easiest to fix. I’m going to hit 300 putts tonight. It will be fine tomorrow.”

Not surprisingly, Jin was making more positive noises after such a strong start to an event he came so close to winning last year. Missing only “three or four” fairways, he took advantage of the preferred lies that were in place after heavy overnight rain.

“I am pleased,” he said. “It is hard not to be. I did everything well. Drove it great. Putted great. Approach shots were pretty good, too. Everything pretty much went my way. We all know there is going to be some pressure to come. But I’m just trying to enjoy my game and get as much out of it as I can.”

Ultimately, that would be a trip to Augusta, Ga., another to Liverpool, England and, just maybe, an opportunity to defend this title on one of golf’s greatest courses Down Under.