BANGKOK, August 11 - Englishman Chris Wood looks like spoiling a fairytale ending for the home favourites after snatching a one-shot lead following the third round of the U.S. $ 1 million Thailand Open at Suwan Golf & Country Club on Saturday.
The strapping 1.96-metre (6 ft 5 inch) European Tour regular, making his first appearance on OneAsia, fired a five-under-par 67 around the 6,471 metre (7,077 yard) course for an 18-under tournament total of 198 -- a stroke ahead of Chinese-Taipei's Chan Shih-chang (68).
Thailand has not produced a home winner of the National Open since Boonchu Ruangkit won his second title in 2004, but overnight leader Prom Meesawat (72) and Wisut Artjanawat (71) are well in the hunt three shots behind the leader, along with Korea's Lee Dong-hwan (67) and Aussie David McKenzie (70).
Wood, 24, turned professional in 2008 after finishing fifth in the Open Championship and then stunned the golf world by bettering that the following year. A bad bounce on the 18th at Turnberry left him with a par putt to make a play-off with Stewart Cink and Tom Watson, but he left it agonisingly short and had to settle for joint third.
Wood has two top-three finishes on the European Tour this year, but is still seeking his first professional win. The steamy tropical conditions are proving an unlikely stage for that breakthrough.
"I played in Malaysia earlier this year and it was so hot and humid that I said 'never again'," Wood said. "It was getting like that again here today, but I really concentrated on keeping cool -- staying in the shade and using a damp towel all the time."
Wood almost came unstuck at the last after his approach shot from an awkward lie nearly went in the water, but he scrambled par to ensure he was alone atop the leaderboard.
"I will just try to play the same again tomorrow," he said. "I won't worry what anyone else is doing and just concentrate on my own game."
A shot further back, Chan is surprised he is in Thailand at all -- never mind challenging for the title.
The 26-year-old son of a golf professional only landed a spot in the field following the late withdrawal by a member of the Japan Tour, who were given 20 slots as part of a growing relationship with OneAsia.
"I have the chance to win my first championship on a tour and that's my aim this season -- whether on the Asian Tour, Japan Challenge Tour or OneAsia," he said.
"This week I definitely have the biggest chance. I will try my best to win."
Chan only played the first full 18 holes of his life in Thailand, as a 15-year-old on holiday with his parents, but he clearly likes the conditions.
"It was the first time I played on a course and walked on the fairways," he said. "The weather is hot, similar to Taipei, so not a problem for me."
Overnight leader Prom is seeking to emulate his father Suthep, who in 1991 became the first of only two Thais to win their national Open championship -- despite the Kingdom producing some of the region's best players since the tournament started in 1965.
The event has an aura that can be both inspiring and intimidating for Thai professionals because the trophy was donated by the King, who is held in reverence by the population. They say for a Thai to win, he has to be on top of his game physically, mentally and spiritually.
"The dream is still alive," said Prom, after a birdie on the last saw him finish level for the day and 15 under for the tournament.
"It was great to finish with a birdie, that pleased me. I am still hitting the ball well so if I can hole the putts I can score as well as the first two rounds."
Evergreen Boonchu, who now plies his trade on various senior tours, has an unlikely chance to claim a third title after three rounds in the 60s left him four off the lead.
"I normally play three rounds (on the Seniors Tour) so I should be heading home now," he joked afterwards.
"I am quite proud of myself to be in contention at age 56."
The leading Korean player among a strong contingent from the Land of the Morning Calm is Lee, who at just 25 has already won twice on the Japan Tour as well as the national amateur titles in both countries.
With K. J. Choi's former caddy Jarrod Love on his bag, Lee is soaking-up all the experience he can.
“I played in the U.S. Open this year and spent some time with K. J. Choi. He told me to work more on being able to shape my shots both left and right," Lee said.
"It has been working well and helping me this week."
The pick of the Aussies was David McKenzie, three off the lead after making the most of a roller-coaster round he cheerfully admits had a share of good fortune.
"I holed a bunker shot on eight. If you hit it in the rubbish enough you get enough chances to do that," he said.
"I also chipped in from beside the green on 16. It is one of those weeks because I have holed twice from the fairway for eagles."
Defending champion Andre Stolz of Australia, who went on to win the OneAsia Order of Merit title last year, is 12 shots off the lead after shooting a 70 on Saturday.