Kuala Lumpur: Danny Chia birdied his closing two holes for a flawless six-under-par 66 to hold a commanding three-shot lead after the first round of the SapuraKencana National Qualifier on Monday.
The 41-year-old Chia, who won the SapuraKencana National Qualifier in 2012, returned with six birdies to lead from an in-form Ben Leong at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, West course.
Airil Rizman Zahari was a further two shots back in third after posting a 71 in the RM150,000 event which rewards the winner with a spot in the US$7 million CIMB Classic, which is sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and Asian Tour from October 30 to November 2.
Starting from the 10th tee, Chia needed a huge lift off in the second half after turning in 35. He burst into life with three straight birdies starting from the third hole and ended with a flourish to put himself in prime position to feature in the CIMB Classic for the third time.
“On the back I started to hit better with my irons and the putts dropped so I gained a bit of confidence with my putting. I wasn’t being too greedy. I tried to hit the fairways and find the greens and hopefully hole my putts,” said Chia.
The popular Malaysian has been struggling with injuries since 2013 and his latest setback was a back injury earlier this month which forced him out of competitive golf for several weeks.
“After the surgery in September, 2013 (to remove bone fragments which were pressing on a nerve), I tried to work way too hard to regain my strength. I overworked my body and hurt my back.
“It is not the same injury. So far I’m feeling okay. I did some treatment on my back and I’m feeling much better,” added Chia, who enjoyed a tied 13th result in the 2011 CIMB Classic.
Leong continued his rich vein of form after winning a local event last week. The slender Malaysian posted four birdies against one bogey with the highlight of his round being a brilliant birdie on 13 which came after he rifled his five iron to three feet.
“I’ve been playing well. Every part of my game is good. I felt quite relaxed out and I’m happy with the result. Hole 13 is a tough hole and I always find myself in trouble on that hole. So the birdie gave me a lot more confidence,” said Leong, who is aiming to qualify for the CIMB Classic for the first time.
Airil kept up his chase for a spot in the CIMB Classic by trading three birdies against two bogeys to return with his career’s best score at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
“I’m really happy with my result. I made all the putts that I needed to make. This is my official lowest score on this golf course!” he laughed.
“I’ve been playing well since June. Most of my weekly scores are under-par. I’m happy with my swing and it all comes down to my confidence which breaks or makes your round. I switched irons earlier so that’s the turning point. I’m feeling comfortable with all my clubs now,” said Airil.
The CIMB Classic will be the fourth event of the 2014/15 FedExCup Season on the PGA TOUR. Offering full FedExCup points, the CIMB Classic will feature 78 players – 60 coming from the PGA TOUR, 10 from Asian Tour and eight sponsor’s exemptions, and will carry a total purse of US$7 million.
Out of the eight sponsor’s exemptions, CIMB Classic accords two spots for Malaysians. The second spot will be accorded to the highest ranked Malaysian golfer on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as at October 20. If the winner of the SapuraKencana National Qualifier is also the leading Malaysian in the OGWR, the second spot for the CIMB Classic will automatically go to the next best-ranked Malaysian on the OGWR.
Leading first round scores:
66 – Danny Chia
69 – Ben Leong
71 – Airil Rizman
72 – Mohd Rizal Amin, Mohd Azman, S. Sivachandran
73 – Chong Chee Ming, Farid A. Rashid, Zurie Harun, Solhairy Sharif, Abel Tam
74 – Wilson Choo, Mohd Shaaban Hussin, Khor Kheng Hwai, S. Murthy, Tommy Chin, R. Nachimuthu