Chiangmai: Gaganjeet Bhullar made a great charge with a sizzling seven-under 65, the best card of the day, but Thai veteran Prayad Marksaeng fired a majestic six-under-par 66 to open up a commanding five-shot lead over the field at the end of the third day in the inaugural $750,000 Chiangmai Golf Classic, here, on Saturday.
Bhullar’s 65 took him to 11-under 205, while Digvijay Singh, lying tied second overnight slipped to tied fourth after a battling round of two-under 70, that put him at 12-under after a finishing bogey on par-5 18th.
Digvijay, however, is still the best-placed Indian among the five left after the cut.
Shiv Kapur (68), Anirban Lahiri (68) and Himmat Rai (70) were all tied 26th at eight-under in the low-scoring event.
Adding to the drama was Thongchai Jaidee, who needs a win to qualify for the Masters next month.
Thongchai fired a 69 to move to 13-under, alongside Australia’s Matthew Stieger, but they are five shots behind Prayad.
Digvijay is tied fourth with Marcus Both (65), Anton Haig (66), Kiradech Aphinabarnrat (66), Scott Hend (67) and Y. E. Yang (67).
The 47-year-old Prayad, who led by two overnight, went out with a flawless 31 before shooting three more birdies against two bogeys to put some daylight between him and the chasing pack with 18-under-par 198 total.
Thongchai, a three-time Asian Tour No. 1, battled to a 69 for tied second place but conceded he needed a miracle to topple the runaway leader for a win, which he needs to break into the world’s top-50 and earn a place at the Masters Tournament in two weeks’ time.
Four-time Major champion Ernie Els of South Africa fired his lowest round of the season with a 66 to move up to tied 15th place, eight shots behind the leader.
In-form Prayad, who has won three times at home this year including his National Open a fortnight ago, is chasing his seventh Asian Tour title but his first in nearly six years on the region’s premier Tour, which is celebrating its milestone 10th season this year.
A chip-in eagle on seven proved to be the highlight of his day as he held on to the lead for the third straight day.
“I didn’t have the best start. I hit it close on the second and fourth holes but I wasn’t reading the greens correctly today. I just didn’t get the speed of the greens right. Then I hit it really good. Hit it to about six feet on the 10th hole and it was a ‘given’ birdie on 11,” Digvijay said.
“I made a great par on 17 when I hit it over the green and into thick rough but managed to get it out to about two feet. Overall it was a good experience playing with Thongchai Jaidee. The last time I played with him was as an amateur at the 1995 Nomura Cup in New Zealand.
“My goal remains the same. My plan of action remains the same. I’m really enjoying myself this week. This is a really beautiful golf course, I think it is one of the best that I’ve played in Asia,” Digvijay added.