Shaaban tops local picks

Shaaban Hussin © Khalid Redza/Asian Tour

Kuala Lumpur: On a day when the rest of the Malaysians in the field struggled to find their footing, Shaaban was a figure of calm and confidence as he notched a solid start to his campaign at the Maybank Malaysian Open.

The slender Shaaban, who is a Maybank ambassador, ended the day in tied 29th place after mixing his card with five birdies against three bogeys to trail first round leader Charl Schwartzel of South Africa by six shots at the US$2.5 million event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

Malaysian amateur Low Khai Jei, who turns 16 in June, overcame a nervous triple bogey start to return a 73, matching the likes of Asian Tour winners Danny Chia and Ben Leong to keep himself in the frame of making the halfway cut on Friday.

The highlight of Shaaban’s round came when he nearly aced the par three 11th hole with his three-iron tee shot where an Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra is on offer to the first player to sink a hole-in-one.

“It went in the hole and bounced out to about eight feet. Sadly, I missed my birdie putt,” lamented Shaaban.

“I played the best I could. My target was to shoot one or two under and I achieved that. It is only the first day and I wanted to the feel of the tournament. I might have gone lower but my putting wasn’t as good as I expected it to be. I hope I can do better in the next three rounds,” he said.

“I was a bit shaky on the first few holes. I tried to maintain my rhythm. When I dropped a shot, I would try to make it up with a birdie. I felt more comfortable on the back nine,” added Shaaban.

The 31-year-old noted that he has to deal with the pressure of being the top-placed Malaysian in the field. “I don’t want to push or give myself too much pressure. If I can play under-par every round, I believe I can finish with a leaderboard position.”

Low, making his debut in the Maybank Malaysian Open, said he was shaking on the first tee which led to a triple bogey seven on his first hole. But youngster steadied the ship with birdies on three and four but gave them back with dropped shots on eight and nine. He ended his round strongly with birdies on 16 and 17 and made an eight-footer for par at the last in near darkness.

“I was so nervous … I was shaking. After that (triple bogey), I tried to keep my score and got some birdies,” said Low. “I learned that I can deal with the pressure. Hopefully I can hit my irons better tomorrow and have a chance to make the cut.”

Chia posted golf’s dreaded ‘snowman’ with a triple bogey eight at the par five fifth hole but fought back to card a 73. He said his impatience got to him after seeing the leaders post low numbers before he started his afternoon round.

“Quite pleased to finish with what I had today. The mistake on five is unforgivable. I just got desperate to go under par really fast. I hit it twice into the water. The second shot, I should not have thought of trying for the green. I lost my patience and it was a mistake. Good news is that I came back and have given myself a fighting chance for tomorrow,” said Chia.

“Back to reality tomorrow, one shot at a time and just avoid the mistakes,” said Chia.