The 24-year-old completed his studies at the Thammasat University in Thailand on Saturday before turning his focus to the US$300,000 tournament where he fired a six-under-par 64 to lead by one shot.
India’s Chikkarangappa S. produced his best round in 2018 to trail in second place alongside Jazz Janewattananond and Sarit Suwannarut of Thailand on matching 65s at the award-winning Thai Country Club.
Chikkarangappa shot five-under-par 65 with six birdies and a lone bogey to trail by one shot and lying at T2. He had flawless back nine with five birdies, and one each birdie and bogey in the front nine.
China’s Xiao Bowen, Australia’s Terry Pilkadaris and Thailand’s Poom Saksansin, who represented Team Asia at the EurAsia Cup earlier this year, were among nine players bunched up in tied fifth place on 66s.
Natipong, who won his first Asian Tour title at the 2015 Resorts World Manila Masters while pursuing his law degree, produced a flawless round highlighted by six birdies. The young Thai was surprised with his hot start after taking time off from golf to study for his examinations.
After working with his coach Vijay Divecha last week, Chikkarangappa played one of his best rounds which was only marred by a bogey on his final ninth hole where his tee shot hit a tree and found water. He narrowly missed his par putt to settle for a 65.
The 22-year-old Jazz, who has been juggling between tournaments in Europe and Asia, was also bogey-free as he put himself in position to launch a title assault for a second Asian Tour victory.