Singapore: Iain Steel conjured up a magical moment on the final green to ensure that the Malaysians stayed ahead of the hosts after the fourball session of the Prudential Causeway Trophy on Saturday.
On a stiflingly day at Laguna National Golf and Country Club, Steel’s 50-footer at the par-five 18th saw the teams finish the day level on 3-all, giving the Malaysians a slender 6½ – 5½ advantage going into tomorrow’s 12 singles clashes.
With his partner Danny Chia looking on nervously, Steel improbably holed out to secure a one-up triumph over Singapore number one Mardan Mamat and Koh Dengshan after Koh had placed his second shot within six feet for a makeable eagle putt.
“You don’t expect to make putts like that – it was more luck than skill. All I wanted to do was to make Dengshan have to hole out his putt. I was trying to aim for a five-foot circle but I’ll take a putt like that any day,” said the 43-year-old Sabahan.
Steel and Chia had gone in front at the first and were ahead for all but two holes of their contest. “We were up most of day, but it was a tough match all the way through. I think it was important that Danny and I are comfortable playing with each other in these high-pressured situations.
“We were not trying to play for each other because it was paramount that we both had our balls in play, which was the case for much of the match,” added Steel, who made a crucial par-save at 14th to help regain control of the match after a brave Singapore fightback.
Ahead 3½ – 2½ after Friday’s foursomes, Malaysia further added to their points tally with triumphs for the pairings of Nicholas Fung and Khor Kheng Hwai (4&2 against Madasamy Murugiah and Goh Kun Yang), S. Sivachandhran and Kemarol Baharin (4&3 versus Poh Eng Wah and Justin Han).
Fung and Khor continued their profitable partnership as they raced into a three-hole lead through sixth and never came under serious threat from Murugiah and Goh, closing out the contest with a par at 16th.
“We cruised and while there was nothing spectacular, we kept the ball in play and make them work for point. We knew the team was relying on us to put the point on the board and we got into our strides early and hung on to settle the match,” said Kheng Hwai.
Sivachandhran and Baharin made short work of Poh and Han. Having halved the first five holes, Malaysia moved ahead at the sixth before Sivachandhran turned the screw with winning pars at nine and 10th. Poh briefly raised hopes of a late comeback with Singapore’s solitary birdie at 12th, but their opponents closed out the match with a par at the long 15th.
“We played to our strengths – Kemarol went out a bit more aggressively while I played a little more defensively and it paid out because we capitalised on our chances. We left a few out there but definitely felt a little more comfortable with our rhythm after going 2-UP at the turn,” said Sivachandhran.
Singapore needed a last-ditch win from Lam Chih Bing and Lam Zhi Qun over Md Rashid Ismail and Hans Jamil to gain their first point of the day, with the un-related Lams atoning for the misfortune they endured the previous day, when they fell to unlikely winning eagle by Shaaban Hussin on the last.
“After what happened yesterday, it was good to win on the 18th this time,” said Zhi Qun, whose eight-footer after a pinpoint seven-iron approach was his second eagle of the day. He also holed out with his third shot from 80 metres at the par-five fourth while Chih Bing got in on the eagle act with a three of his own at 12th.
Yet a Singapore win seemed unlikely when Hans made birdie at the short 11th to give the Malaysians the lead for the first time. Chih Bing then stamped his class with a winning birdie at the long 12th followed by decisive pars at 13th and 14th to establish a two-hole advantage for Singapore.
But the visitors struck back with winning pars at 16th and 17th to square the match – and set the stage for Zhi Qun’s grandstand finish.
Choo Tze Huang and Chang Ren Chiat came up trumps for Singapore again, swatting aside the challenge of Iylia and De Silva 3&2. Despite falling behind to an opening-hole birdie by Iylia, Choo and Chang won three out of four holes from the third and were three-up at the turn before coasting home.
“We kept going by played some good golf and we had each other’s back covered when we needed it. We did not lose a hole with a bogey until the 15th. We were three up after nine holes and Ren Chiat sounded out that we shouldn’t let up because those two Malaysian boys are real fighters and true enough, they kept us on our toes,” said Choo.
Immediately in front of them, Quek and Kawasoe proved too strong for Othman and Hussin to maintain their 100% win record in the tournament. Two-up through three, the Singaporeans were pegged back to all square after five. It remained that way until Kawasoe rolled home a three-footer for birdie at 13th to put the home team back in the driving seat, extending their lead at 15th.
Chong Chee Ming, Malaysia’s non-playing captain, praised his players. “It was a tough, hot day and my team hung in there. I’m happy that we split the fourball series 3-3. We expected a close match and that’s the way it’s playing out. It’s going to be a thrilling finish,” said Chong.
Singapore’s skipper Mohd Said Abdul Latif agreed: “It’s going to go down to the wire,” he predicted. “Although we’re down by one point, we have home soil advantage and still have a good chance to win.”