Akhmal claims breakthrough victory

Akhmal Tarmizee ©eddieputera/TCH
Akhmal Tarmizee Nazari ©eddieputera/TCH

Kajang, Selangor: Akhmal Tarmizee Nazari ended a four-year wait to clinch his maiden professional title after seeing off a stern challenge by a trio of seasoned campaigners to lift the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM)-Maybank Tour Players’ Championship on Saturday.

The 23-year-old topped the elite field at the burgeoning domestic circuit’s season finale at Impian Golf & Country Club with a closing one-under 71, finishing a shot clear of Sukree Othman (70), S. Sivachandhran (69) and local resident professional Md Rashid Ismail, who almost stole the headlines with a strong final round six-under 66.

Akhmal earned RM50,400 for his effort and walked home with a highly valuable sponsor’s invite to the Maybank Malaysian Open 2013.

Youngster Mohd Iylia Jamil, who made an early move up the leaderboard, dropped two consecutive shots through 15th to settle for sole fifth on seven-under 281.

A joint sixth placing with R. Nachimuthu (70) on six-under 282 was sufficient for Sabahan Nicholas Fung to confirm the Order of Merit victory with a RM159,635 overall, RM14,036 ahead of runner-up Sukree.

It proved to be an emotional afternoon for Akhmal as the former national hugged his dad in tears after draining a three-feet par save on the last to return with a 10-under 278 total at the RM300,000 tournament.

“It has taken four long years for me to realise a dream when I turned professional. It’s great to be back in the winners’ circuit and I’m definitely able to say now that I’ve learned how to win on the paid ranks,” shared the 2007 Korat SEA Games bronze medallist, who enjoyed much success in his amateur days.

“I’m relieved because I was really nervous on the homeward stretch but I managed to hold it together and sustain the pressure from my more experienced compatriots. Despite falling behind Siva[chandhran] just after the turn, I stayed calm, kept my momentum going and executed my game plan to the best of my ability,” added the overnight leader.

The turning point for Akhmal came on the 13th when he recovered first from a terrible lie behind the trees and then played a superb approach from the foot of a mound to set up a birdie. He followed it up with another gain on the next hole before playing good percentage golf to coast homely safely.

“That was nerve-wrecking putt on the last but I’m pleased that I didn’t crack under pressure,” explained Akhmal. “There have been a few close shaves in the past including when I finished runner-up behind Airil [Rizman Zahari] at Lanjut. But today,  my perseverance and belief  has paid off and I’m grateful for that,” he noted, adding that he will strive to make good use of his sponsor’s invite to the national Open next March.

A victory would have handed Sukree the Order of Merit title but four-time PGM Tour winner came up short despite a late eagle on the 17th. “I struggled to find my putting rhythm on the greens today. Had a couple of three-putts and missed three great birdie chances early on. I kept myself in contention but another dropped shot on the 15th proved to be my undoing. Came back strongly with an eagle on 17th but left it a little too late,” said the flu-ridden professional

Sivachandran marked four birdies against a single bogey on his card but could not transform the chances he had on the back nine into gains. “I gave it my best until the end. My birdie miss on the 17th pretty much summed up my round. I had a few makeable birdie chances on the back nine, which I could not convert. You need a little bit of extra luck to win especially when your putts stop inches short off the pin,” said Sivachandhran, who was nonetheless pleased with his performance over the past fortnight despite ending 2012 without a victory.

Leading final round scores

278 – Akhmal Tarmizee 69-70-68-71
279 – Sukree Othman 74-68-67-70, S. Sivachandhran 70-72-68-69, Md Rashid Ismail 71-68-74-66
281 – Iylia Jamil 72-71-69-69
282 – R. Nachimuthu 67-71-74-70, Nicholas Fung 70-71-72-69
283 – Airil Rizman Zahari 70-73-68-72, Shaaban Hussin 71-69-73-70, Lim Eng Seng 70-74-75-64