KUALA LUMPUR, Thailand -- Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat will play the most important 18 holes yet of his burgeoning career on Sunday after ending the third round of the CIMB Classic one shot behind co-leaders Chris Stroud and Ryan Moore.
The current Asian Tour No. 1 battled to a three-under-par 69 in the third round at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West course which ended with an anxious wait at the end of his round to review television footages of an incident at the 13th hole when his ball moved.
But after being cleared by the rules officials, the talented 24-year-old will now shoot for his biggest career victory yet at the $7 million tournament sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR, and also his second title on the West course after winning the Malaysian Open here in March.
"I feel really pleased with the way I'm playing. It was a good start, three days in a row on the front nine, but struggling a bit on the back. Three rounds, kind of mixed golf on the back nine. But I'm working on my putting a lot from yesterday, and that helped. I’m happy with three under, and just a good chance which I'll try to catch up in the final round," said Kiradech, who made three birdies and an eagle in his opening 10 holes before dropping a double bogey on 14.
Stroud, searching for his first PGA TOUR title, shot a 68 for a 12-under-par 204 aggregate alongside Moore, who returned a 69 as he seeks his third career victory at the CIMB Classic.
Another American, Gary Woodland moved into a share of third with Kiradech after a 67 while veteran Jerry Kelly shot a stellar 66 for fifth place, two behind the lead.
A win on Sunday will earn Kiradech $1.26 million, playing rights on the PGA TOUR for essentially the next three years, a place at the Masters Tournament next April plus a host of other invitations.
"I’m just going to try to play my game, stick to my game plan and just play on my form," said Kiradech. "I don't want to look at the leaders too much, so if you look at the score, maybe the results are so tough to make the score. Just try to focus, play and enjoy the final round.
"I don't want to put a lot of pressure to me. Like I said, I just want to play good golf, have fun."
It wasn’t quite a fun finish when Kiradech was asked to review the incident on the 13th.
He explained: "I had my mark on the ball, and I put the ball always in the center. When I walked to the ball, I only looked at the pin. First time I looked back at the ball, I could see my marker not being on the centre. Normally it is, and I'm sure my ball is moving. I walk in and just walk out and called the rules (official), and I'm really sure that I haven't touched the club before the ball moved. There was no penalty," said Kiradech, who will play in the penultimate group in the final round.
Moore was disappointed with a poor stretch on the back nine where he dropped four shots over five holes after turning in 31. "It was almost two different days out there. I really got going, really hot early, making a lot of putts and making a lot of birdies. And then just kind of hit a pretty rough stretch there in the middle," said Moore.
"I've obviously been playing some pretty good golf this week. It's been a little up and down these last couple days, but I have enough positives that I've just got to kind of keep doing exactly what I'm doing."
Stroud hit four birdies in a row from the fifth hole to launch himself into contention on a day when the leaders came back into the field through dropped shots on the more challenging back nine on the West course.
"I really hung in there, gave myself a lot of good looks and I got on a good tear there. There's a lot of wedges, but I'll tell you what, if you do not hit a fairway, you're going to struggle to make par, and that's really my focus," he said.
Overnight leader Keegan Bradley struggled to a 76 to fall three shots off the pace while world number three Phil Mickelson shot his week’s best round to date with a 68 to lie five behind the leaders alongside Korea’s K.J. Choi in equal 11th place.
Choi, an Asian Tour honorary member and an eight-time winner on the PGA TOUR, shot a 70 which included a disappointing double bogey on 17 after a misjudged approach shot from the rough ended in water.
He said: "It was a good round but the 17th hole ruined it for me. Still one more day and hopefully I can catch up. I found the water from the rough. That was my luck of the day. I thought it was going right at the pin and if I had got a birdie there, I would have been right up there. Now, it’s a three shot difference."