‘Big Ben’ An Byeong-hun remained the top Asian at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters for a third straight day, but the tall Korean played down his hopes of victory after an even-par 72 left him eight-under, five shots off the pace.
India’s Shiv Kapur, who played with An for the first two days, also carded an even-par round to remain at six-under, while six-time European Tour winner Thongchai Jaidee shot 69 to move to five-under at Doha Golf Club.
Jeev Milkha Singh (73) was three-under after a 73, while big-hitting Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat dropped back to two-under after a 75.
Standing almost six-foot three-inches tall, the laid-back An cut a relaxed figure despite an unremarkable day at the office that left him in a share of ninth, still an impressive performance in his tournament debut.
“It wasn’t very good. I just didn’t get anything going. I wasn’t hitting it right, my driver wasn’t going good and I didn’t really hit it close enough to have any chances. It was just one of those bad rounds,” said An, who has lived in the USA for the past decade.
“I enjoyed playing the first two rounds with Shiv. I’ve known him for two or three years now, so it was fun to play with someone I know.”
Now in his rookie season on The European Tour, An finished 12th in Abu Dhabi last week, but admitted that he wasn’t putting himself under undue pressure to become the first Asian winner of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
“It won’t happen if I play like I did today, that’s for sure. If I pull out one of my best rounds of the year, I might have a chance, but it all depends on other players and there are too many other players in front of me,” An said.
“I’d like to get top 10. Right now, I’m ninth, but I’ll try my best to raise my position. I’ll stay patient. I could have a great day, a bad day, so we’ll see tomorrow. I just have to be patient.”
An, who won the 2009 US Amateur Championship as a 17-year-old, started last year ranked World No. 445, but is now No. 166 after an impressive third season on the European Challenge Tour, where he has developed his game since turning pro in 2011.
Last July, An was the top Asian finisher at The Open Championship and a month later became the first Korean to win on the Challenge Tour, a victory that helped him finish third in the circuit’s final standings and earn a European Tour card for 2015.
“I tried to get on the PGA Tour when I turned pro, but it didn’t work, but I know The European Tour is pretty big. It’s great to develop my game. There are a lot of good players and it’s really competitive. I played in Q-School and I missed it so I started on the Challenge Tour,” An said.
“The first two years were honestly a struggle, but it was just the beginning. I was still young and I think it was a great choice to play in Europe. Since The Open, I’ve played pretty well. It raised my game when I played in The Open and I’ve been in good form since then, I think. I played well last week and in South Africa last month.”
An is still happy to base himself in the US despite a global schedule, but said the lifestyle suits him.
“I play five to six weeks at a time, then go back to the US for a week or two. I love my life. I love travelling. It’s a different country every week, different food. Right now it’s my first time playing on The European Tour in the Middle East and it’s quite amazing. The views and course set-ups are quite amazing.”
Despite the attention heaped on him since winning the US Amateur as a teenager, An has modest ambitions and said his main goal for 2015 is to retain his European Tour card, while keeping one eye on a place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
“My first target is to finish in the top 110 (on the Race to Dubai), to keep my card, then the top 60, and maybe a win, that would be nice, but top 110 is the first goal. I’m a rookie, so I don’t expect to play too well. I think patience is the key for me.”
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