Sarit Suwannarut. Asian Tour

Thailand’s Sarit Suwannarut fired an opening five-under-par 66 to take the lead in the Asian Tour’s International Series England at Close House, near Newcastle, as some of LIV Golf’s big names lurked near the top of the leaderboard.

He fired six birdies and one bogey in nasty conditions on the Colt Course, to finish the day one in front of American Liv-er Jason Kokrak and Jaewoong Eom from Korea.

Germany’s Dominic Foos and Suradit Yongcharoenchai from Thailand returned 68s, while LIV Golf and Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter was in group of 10 players on 69.

Sarit played a practice round here with countryman Pavit Tangkamolprasert before last year’s England event, which was played at a different venue, and said: “Maybe that helped a little bit today, there was more rain that time.”

He started on the back nine on Thursday, and birdied 10, and 14 before a brilliant two on the 18th — a difficult 185-yard par-three, that could be the scene of much drama come Sunday. He dropped a shot on the second, but recovered with gains on three, six and eight.

“I have been hitting it really well,” he said. “Today was just about the putting, it is all about the putting. Still need to fix my long putting, I might practice that.”

Sarit triumphed for the first time on the Asian Tour last year, at the season-ending Indonesian Masters, but has struggled this year, until a top-10 finish in the Indonesia Open two weeks ago.

“I had an injury at the beginning of the year, at first it was a back injury, then I got sick, I got Covid, I also had neck and wrist problems,” said the 25-year-old, who was also laid low by Covid last year.

“I took a lot of time off to repair my body, to not get into trouble with injury again, I think that’s worked.”

Kokrak, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour including two in 2021, finished strongly with birdies on 16 and 17.

“Very happy with that,” said the 38-year-old. “I thought I was going along well but not really making any putts. I was hitting it well but thought I should be more under par. Made a couple there at the end, happy with it.

“The course is wet and super long. I would love to see this place really bouncy.”

Ian Poulter. Asian Tour

Englishman Poulter was happy to get in the clubhouse among the leaders after a rough second half.

“Damage limitation,” said Poulter. “Obviously, three-under through nine and cruising but bogeyed the first hole which is my 10th, a par five, is suicide, frustrating to do that. I shanked it down four which is not ideal, nearly made par, and had another bogey on the par three with a pulled eight iron, I was in the middle of the fairway there. Dropping three shots on that nine was poor.”

His son, Luke, an amateur, started well with a 72 although made costly mistakes with the short stick.

Poulter Sr said: “He’s one over, he had four three putts. He will probably slap himself around the head, so he has obviously played good golf, and he has not done his job on the putting green. He is a good golfer, and great he is in the field this week.”

His compatriot, fellow LIV Golfer and playing partner Lee Westwood, who is the Touring Professional for Close House, also looked set to be among the front runners but made a double on his third from last hole and came in with a 70.

American Andy Ogletree, who currently leads the Asian Tour and International Series Order of Merits, signed for a 72, while Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong, who claimed the Mandiri Indonesia Open two weeks ago, shot 73.