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Chinarat Phadungsil turns professional

Thai teenage sensation Chinarat Phadungsil has turned professional and goes Tiger hunting at the US$5 million HSBC Champions tournament starting on Thursday.

Two days after becoming the youngest winner in the region, the 17-year-old relinquished his amateur status and signed up as the newest member of the Asian Tour at Sheshan International Golf Club. He hopes his career will eventually lead him to the US PGA Tour.

The slightly-built Chinarat, who won the world junior championship in San Diego this year, couldn't have asked for a more exciting start in the pro trail as he will line up alongside world number one Tiger Woods in the HSBC Champions, Asia's richest event.

After missing out on last week's top cheque of US$47,250 due to his amateur status, Chinarat is guaranteed at least US$6,000 as all players will earn prize money at the HSBC Champions.

"It's very exciting for me to play as a professional, especially at such a big event and with Tiger Woods in the field. It's a good opportunity and a big challenge for me," said Chinarat, who edged out India 's Shiv Kapur in a play-off to win the Double A International Open on home soil last weekend.

"It was an unexpected win. However, I have always wanted to turn professional and it was only a question of when. After last week's success, I received a lot of advice from my father as well as my coach and we all felt confident that I should turn pro now."

It will certainly be a baptism of fire for the teenager as a top-class field made up mainly of winners from across the Asian Tour, European Tour, Australasian Tour and Sunshine ( Southern Africa ) Tour will headline the elite 75-man field in the HSBC Champions.

World number two Vijay Singh , US Open champion Michael Campbell and eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie are amongst the stars who will compete at Sheshan.

Chinarat does not feel he needs to reproduce another victory soon to reaffirm his new-found stature as Asia 's newest rising star. "I'll use my two-year exemption on the Asian Tour to the fullest. I'm got a lot more to learn in this game and my main goal will be to make the cut in every event.

"Ultimately, I want to try to make it through to the US PGA Tour. That will be one of my goals," said Chinarat.

The past 48 hours has been a whirlwind for the youngster. He hardly slept on Sunday after his stunning triumph due to numerous phone calls from well-wishers while Monday was spent arranging for his visa to play in China.

After arriving early this morning from Bangkok , he teed up for a practice round with current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Thaworn Wiratchant and Prayad Marksaeng. Just a couple of hundred yards away from Chinarat was Woods at the driving range.

Thaworn is confident his young compatriot will sparkle on the Asian Tour. "Chinarat has won many times as an amateur and he will excel as a professional player. He has a solid all-round game and what he needs to focus on is to find consistency on Tour.

"He must push himself to get better. As an amateur, his father and coach are always with him but on Tour, he will be mainly by himself and he needs to find the motivation to practice harder," said Thaworn.

November 8, 2005

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