Nirat of Thailand wins TCL Classic

Chapchai Nirat of Thailand plays a shot on the 4th hole during the third round of The TCL Classic

SANYA, China (AP) — Chapchai Nirat of Thailand shot a 1-under 71 on Sunday to win the TCL Classic and claim his first victory in a major tournament.

The 23-year-old Thai led from start to finish to end with a 22-under 266 for four rounds. He opened with a course-record 61 to win the joint-sanctioned Asian-European tour event at the Yalong Bay Golf Club on Hainan Island in southern China.

Nirat entered the final round with a five-stroke lead, and was steady rather than spectacular to close out the rest of the field.

Rafael Echenique of Argentina finished three strokes back after a closing 68. Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand was two more shots behind — five off the winning pace — after a 67.

“There was pressure today,” Nirat said. “I was nervous but I talked to my caddie and we stuck to our game plan just as we have done for the past three days.”

Echenique could have made it close, but missed 8-foot (2.5-meter) birdie putts on the 13th and 14th.

“I couldn’t put the pressure on because I missed many putts,” Echenique said. “But my long game was very good. I hit a lot of fairways and greens. The putting was not so good, but all in all, it’s OK.”

The victory means Nirat will start playing more events in Europe.

“This victory means a lot to me,” he said. “I would like to gain more experience playing on both the Asian Tour and European Tour. And I will certainly head to Europe and play there as well.”

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