Matteson in front, Woods three behind

Tiger Woods ©eddieputera|The ClubHouse

Kuala Lumpur: American Troy Matteson produced a magical eight-under-par 63, thanks to four closing birdies including a closing hole “slam-dunk”, as he put the shade on Tiger Woods in the first round of the US$6.1 CIMB Classic on Thursday.

Matteson revelled in the humid conditions at the Mines Resort and Golf Club to lead by one stroke from countrymen Brian Harman, Robert Garrigus and Jeff Overton, who finished runner-up here last year.

In form Indian Gaganjeet Bhullar, who has won twice on the Asian Tour in the past two months, was a further stroke back with American Tom Gillis while 14-time Major champion Woods, Malaysia’s Danny Chia and Jbe Kruger of South Africa were amongst those in tied seventh place on 66.

Woods, the tournament’s top draw, lit up his back nine with five birdies to end the day three behind the leader. He struggled with a cold putter on his outward nine, missing two short putts on eight and nine to turn in level par before lighting up his inward stretch with five birdies.

“I would love to hop into an ice tub right now,” said a sweaty Woods, who is returning to Malaysia for the first time since his triumph in the World Cup of Golf in 1999.

“I felt in control on the back nine. Towards the end of the front nine, I was hitting it really well. Just missed a couple of short putts on eight and nine but I was hitting it really well. Just continued it and it felt really good on the back nine. I hit some really good shots.

“Turning at even par, I felt like I just got run over there. It felt like I had to shoot something at least three , four under par on that back nine, and I happened to get one more, which is nice. It’s going to take something like 20-plus to win the tournament, so got to be aggressive and go get it.”

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Two-time PGA Tour winner Matteson, making his debut at the CIMB Classic which is sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour, was flawless and closed out his round in style with a birdie from the greenside bunker.

“The pin is really tricky on 18. I thought I hit a pretty good shot in there, and it just barely landed over the bunker and trickled back in the bunker, left me on the upslope. I knew I’d be doing good if I could leave myself seven or eight feet for par, and it bounced and slam dunked in the hole,” he said.

“The course is great. The grass is a lot like what I play back home. You’ve got to play your way around here. You can’t just hit driver on every hole, you’ve got to make some decisions, you’ve got to hit some irons, you’ve got to hit some 3 woods,” added Matteson.

Overton, who shot a course record 62 at the Mines Resort last year, was four-under through 14 holes before holing a 20-foot eagle on 15.

“I got to play with Danny Chia and he was making birdies and we were just both kind of going back and forth. And then all of a sudden I made the eagle, basically drove the green on the short par four, and when that sucker went in, it was really exciting. It was just an all-around fun day,” said Overton.

Garrigus, a winner on the PGA Tour, turned in 30 and hit a splendid eagle three on the 11th hole when his four iron approach from 258 yards landed three feet from the hole. “Gosh, that was probably one of the prettiest four irons I’ve ever hit in my life,” he said.

“I just smoked the four iron, hit it to three feet, made eagle, then made a great par save on the next hole. I think those three holes really kept the round going, then birdied a couple coming in.”

Defending champion Bo Van Pelt shot a 70 to lie in tied 30th place.

Leading first round scores
63 – Troy Matteson (USA)
64 – Brian Harman (USA), Jeff Overton (USA), Robert Garrigus (USA)
65 – Tom Gillis (USA), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND)
66 – J.B. Holmes (USA), Ricky Barnes (USA), Danny Chia (MAS), Greg Chalmers (AUS), Jbe’ Kruger (RSA), Tiger Woods (USA)
67 – Kevin Na(USA), Pat Perez (USA), Kevin Stadler (USA)
68 – Brendon de Jonge(ZIM), Martin Laird(SCO), Ben Crane(USA), David Lipsky (USA), Jason Dufner(USA)