Big-hitting Daniel Pearce of New Zealand set the early pace in the fourth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand by shooting a four-under-par 68 to lead after Thursday morning’s rounds.

Thai youngster Danthai Boonma, Malaysia’s Low Khai Jei and Australian Oliver Goss all shot 70 to lie two shots off the early pace, while defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan shot a 71 to lie in a group on one-under.

Pearce, 24, teed off on 10 and immediately started to dominate the long 7,231-yard layout at Amata Spring Country Club, picking up a shot at 11 before bagging a hattrick of birdies from 14-16.

The tall New Zealander, who played in the 2009 and 2010 championships, also birdied 18 to make the turn in 31 and picked up a further shot at the par-five second to lead at six-under. However, Pearce eventually finished at four-under after bogeys at the par-five seventh and the par-four ninth.

“I just came into this week to enjoy it, so you always play well when you’re enjoying yourself. It’s just great to be here and I’m just trying to play well and see what happens,” said Pearce, who arrived in Thailand for the first time on Sunday night and played practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I really enjoy the course. For some people it’s quite long, but I hit the ball a bit longer than most I guess. I thought the course was set up perfect for my game. The greens are rolling great, and I’m starting to come into some form with the putter.”

Pearce believes he and the other five New Zealanders in the field could be challenging at the top end of the leaderboard come Sunday and potentially end the East Asian dominance of the event.

There’s definitely a chance we could have a Kiwi winner. We’ve got six great golfers here and any of them could lift the trophy,” said Pearce, who’s currently living on his parents’ dairy farm in Ashburton, south of Christchurch.

“I’m in good form and recently finished fourth in a professional event in New Zealand. Before that, I had a bit of time off and so just been getting back into it. But I’ve been working very hard on my game this year, and I’ve had some good results this year, which has been nice.”

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Jonathan Woo of Singapore practises at Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand on Wednesday ahead of this week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Photo: Paul Lakatos/AAC.