Airil braces for tough Kangar finale

Airil is calm ahead of the title decider tomorrow © Ravi Chitty / The ClubHouse

Kangar: The hunt for the RM125,000 Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Perlis Classic title is wide open with less than five shots separating the top ten players after the completion of the third round today at Putra Golf Club .

Armed with local knowledge, Airil Rizman Zahari, who began his climb to golfing stardom at this humble layout flanked by the limestone caves of the Nakawan range posted a reasonable 73 in tough scoring conditions to share the 54-hole lead alongside two-time PGM Tour winner Md Rashid Ismail (74).

One stroke adrift in third was defending PGM Order of Merit champion R.Nachimuthu, who was amongst four players who managed to break par on the day, posting a 71 to earn a place in final trio out tomorrow morning.

Still within a shout for the crown were the duo of Sukree Othman (71) and S. Sivachandhran, who struggled to a 76 enroute to a three-day total of six-over 222 while Shaifubari Muda, already a winner this season and burly rookie Azman Basharuddin took a share of fifth on 224, despite rounds of 76 and 75 today.

Further down the leaderboard, Khor Kheng Hwai and Kenneth De Silva were the biggest movers of the day, carding matching 71s to improve to joint 16th.

The attention, no doubt, fell on the local hero Airil, who is looking to end a personal barren run and add to his succesful resume of eight MPGA wins and the infamous Asian Tour title he earned in Pakistan almost five years ago.

“Well, it’s really going to come down to who is going to be the most patient out there tomorrow. It’s a tough course and it’s a given that everybody will make mistakes, so the player who best keeps his emotions and frustrations at bay is going to be the winner,” said the 33-year-old.

“I’m in a position where I should be really looking forward to winning again after five long years but experience has mellowed me down a little. If I win, great but if I don’t, I’m just going to take stock of the fact that I played some good rounds to be in contention,” added Airil, who has two runner-up finishes to show from 16 starts on the burgeoning domestic tour last year.

Airil is also not banking on home course advantage, taking note that the course has matured quite differently since his amateur days.

“Everybody has an equal opportunity tomorrow. It’s been almost 15 years since I changed my base to the Klang Valley and while the layout is pretty much the same, many things have changed. So, there’s no home course advantage per se but it would be satisfying to get a career boost here. I have many fond memories of the club and hopefully,  I will not only break the duck tomorrow but bury it as well,” he joked.

Rashid on the other hand, is relieved with his consistency despite not having much match practice in recent times since he took over the operations of the pro shop and driving range at the refurbished Kinrara Golf Club. “I struggled with my tee-offs and putting all day, I felt very uneasy but I just hung on and I’m quite surprised to be still up here challenging for the title,” he said.

With seasoned campaigners Airil and Nachimuthu for company tomorrow, the 38-year-old predicts a battle to the end tomorrow. “It’s going to be close fight and I’m sure everyone is going to be very careful. The course can be very penal and the player who makes the least mistakes compared to the other is going to claim the winner’s purse of RM21,000,”  concluded Rashid.

The Perlis Classic is the second of 16 stops on the RM3 million PGM Tour, which is in its second season this year.

Leading third round scores
220 – Airil Rizman Zahari (75-72-73), Md Rashid Ismail (73-73-74)
221 – R. Nachimuthu (74-76-71)
222 – Sukree Othman (74-77-71), S. Sivachandhran (75-71-76)
224 – Shaifubari Muda (73-75-76), Azman Basharuddin (73-74-77)
225 – Wilson Choo (77-74-74), Nicholas Pua (75-75-75), Sahal Saedin (73-75-77)
226 – Jeremiah Kim (73-78-75)