Teenage Thai twin steals show

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The Independent Online

Aree Wongluekiet, the younger by nine minutes of the two 13-year-old Thai twins who competing at the Nabisco Championship at Rancho Mirage, stole the limelight from the tournament leader, Karrie Webb, after shooting a third-round 68 on Saturday which left her with a share of third place.

Webb appeared to have built an unassailable lead at the front after a five-under par round of 67 left her eight strokes clear of Dottie Pepper, but it was the performance of Wongluekiet which captured the attention.

Together with her sister, Naree, who missed the cut, the girls are the second youngest ever to appear in an LPGA tournament and had to receive a sponsor's exemption in order to play. Wongluekiet's round included four birdies and leaves her well placed to make the best finish ever by an amateur in an LPGA Tour event.

"I'm very happy and pleased, and feel it is an honour to compete with the greatest players in the game," Wongluekiet said. "And I had a lot of fun this week. The best-ever finish by an amateur is fourth [Karoline Keggi in 1988], so I'll try and beat that, but not worry too much about it, just go out there and try and play my game."

If the pressure is beginning to tell, Wongluekiet has so far been in no mood to let it show. Asked if she was ever in danger of making a bogey, she joked: "Every single hole. There's always a possibility."

There is every possibility that the Wongluekiet (pronounced Wahn-gloo-kee-it) twins are about to cause a sensation in the normally conservative world of women's golf.

Originally from Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, the pair began playing at the age of seven at a course near their home. Recognising his daughters' potential, their father decided to sell his 92-bedroom hotel and relocate the family to Bradenton, Florida, the home of the David Leadbetter golf academy.

Wongluekiet twins have been nurtured to the verge of something quite special. Aree is the US girls junior champion and last season the twins entered 11 junior tournaments and between them won eight.

"These girls are to golf what Mozart is to music. They are that much of a phenomenon," their coach at the Leadbetter academy, Jonathan Yarwood, said.

Scotland's Janice Moodie, Wongluekiet's playing partner at Rancho Mirage, added her voice to the growing chorus of admirers. "She's a great player, all around," Moodie said. "She didn't miss a beat."