Kuala Lumpur: Reigning champion Kelly Tan Guat Chen was among five players tied for the lead after the first round of the 29th Malaysian Ladies Amateur Open (MLAO) on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old Malaysian lass got her title defence off to a positive start, posting a solid opening three-under-par 68 at the East Course of Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club to top the leaderboard alongside compatriot Iman Ahmad Nordin, 2007 individual winner Dottie Ardina of The Philippines, India’s Mehar Kaur Atwal as well as Australian Whitney Hillier.
Filipino Jayvie Agojo was two strokes adrift of the leaders after carding a round of one-under 70 while the quartet of Thailand’s Savitree Thavong, Chang Yu Hsin of Chinese Taipei, Princess Superal of The Philippines and local Aretha Pan Herng rounding off the top ten on even-par 71.
Pre-tournament favourite Kelly carded two birdies on each nine with the only blemish on her card coming at the par-four 16th, when she dropped a bogey.
“I played really solid today but didn’t get my wish of a flawless finish, if not for that dropped shot on the 16th. Overall, it was a good opening round to the tournament and and I think I can go lower tomorrow if I stay patient and just wait for the birdies to drop,” said Kelly, who admitted that mastering the short and challenging layout was the key difference between carding a low or high score on the day.
Iman, who led the tournament after 36 holes last year, was quietly confident of her title chances after an impressive opening display. “I had a slow start today and dropped a shot early one but I was able to regain my stride and reeled in some crucial birdies,” said the Texas State University freshman, who is back in Malaysia on her summer break.
“The course is definitely playing shorter than I remember it but I think I can post a much better score in the coming rounds. My feel around the greens was superb and my approaches from less than 100 yards were inch-perfect, so that hopefully sets me up well for the next two days,” added the 20-year-old.
Perth-native Hillier, who is the top-ranked amateur in the field this week, was feeling very much at home under favourable conditions today.
“I had a solid start but was indebted to a real strong finish with two birdies in the closing three, which was a nice way to finish the round,” shared the 21-year-old, who is ranked 15th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR).
“It’s a great start to the tournament but as you can see, it’s very close at the top, so I just have to continue doing what I did today and try to go pretty low tomorrow, so that I can keep the fire burning and see where I end up on Thursday,” she added.
In the Division 2 contest, Malaysia’s Nur Islamiah Md Fuad leads Sarfina Vinota Seretharan by one stroke after a opening 75 while Hong Kong’s Helen Cheng tops the Division 3 leaderboard with a round of 79.
Leading first round scores (Division 1)
Malaysians unless stated
68 – Kelly Tan, Iman Ahmad Nordin, Mehar Kaur Atwal (IND), Dottie Ardina (PHI), Whitney Hillier (AUS)
70 – Jayvie Agojo (PHI)
71 – Savitree Thavong (THA), Chang Yu Hsin (TPE), Princess Superal (PHI), Aretha Pan