DUBAI (AP) — He may have shot a 69 to jump into joint second at the Dubai World Championship in playing his best golf for a long time, but ex-soldier Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand is refusing to get excited.
“If I don’t succeed, I’ll come back next year,” the 41-year-old Jaidee said after finishing the third round of the season-ending tournament alongside England’s Ross Fisher and Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
They are two shots behind leader Ian Poulter before Sunday’s final round for the winner’s purse of $1.25 million.
Such winnings would be the biggest earnings for Thongchai, who only turned pro at the age of 30 after almost 10 years in the Royal Thai army as a Ranger, making regular parachute jumps and honing his golf skills on military golf courses.
He learned golf as a young caddy on his home town’s military course at Jompol Por, 90 miles northeast of Bangkok. His first club was a 3-iron head stuck on a bamboo stick.
Was he excited about coming back on Sunday?
“Not especially,” was the reply.
Thongchai’s presence near the top of the leaderboard is no fluke. He’s been gradually climbing the world rankings over the past two or three years, winning four European Tour events in Asia.
Earlier this year, at the Desert Classic also held in Dubai, Thongchai secured third place but his form dipped alarmingly after that.
“This week I’ve hit form again. It’s the putting, sometimes you get a feeling about your putting,” he said. “This is the best I’ve played for months.”
Thongchai outplayed partner Martin Kaymer on Saturday, even though the German is competing with Lee Westwood for the title of top golfer in the world.
Unlike the garrulous European players, Thongchai’s style is unobtrusive and he passes almost unnoticed through the tournament. While crowds of journalists surrounded Kaymer, Molinari and Poulter after their rounds, the Thai player slipped quietly away from the golf course to get some more practice shots in.
Thongchai shot four birdies and a single bogey in Saturday’s round, while his high-profile partner Kaymer lost his consistency, eventually dropping into the water at the 18th and bogeying.
The closest Thongchai would come to acknowledging he was on the verge of a famous victory was when he admitted the last round would be interesting.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” he said. “I’m more confident this week than I have been for a while.”