Kota Kinabalu [SABAH]: A host of local challengers inched their way into contention as frontrunner Mardan Mamat continued to hold fort at the Sabah Masters on Friday.
The seasoned Singaporean doubled his overnight advantage to four strokes despite scrambling for an even-par 71 during a brutal penultimate round at the Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club.
Digging deep into his experience, Mamat cancelled out three birdies with as many bogeys to stay at seven-under 206 and barring a major upset, remains on course for his fourth ASEAN PGA Tour title at the US$100,000 Tour Championship.
Arie Irawan suffered a blow to his title hopes as the domestic rising star struggled to find a putt all day, returning with three bogeys against a sole birdie for a 73.
It was not, however, the case for Malaysian number one Danny Chia, who moved within five shots of the lead with a four-under 67 effort. His round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-five seventh, when he holed out with a 40-foot chip.
Chia was joined on two-under 211 by local pride Nicholas Fung, who carded a flawless five-under 66 and Thailand’s Ratchapol Jantavara (69).
A second consecutive 69 saw another Sabahan Ben Leong stay in the mix, among five players a further shot back in joint sixth.
Mamat led the tournament going into the final round in 2013 and knows that he has to holes some putts tomorrow if he is to add his name to the magnificent Sabah Masters trophy.
“I struggled tee-to-green today and found it difficult to keep the ball on the fairways, which limited my ability to place my approach shots closer to the pin. The prospects are looking really good but I’m not letting my guard down. I need those birdie putts to drop tomorrow,” said Mamat, who lost in a play-off to Antonio Lascuna of the Phillipines two editions ago.
Mamat won the 2009 Mercedes-Benz Masters Singapore and in the following year’s Mercedes-Benz Masters Malaysia and is keen on getting his 2015 campaign off to a fine start.
“Ever since I won in Manila two months back, I have been feeling good about myself and my game. I have four Asian Tour titles to my name and I think can make it four on the ASEAN Tour as well!” sounded the confident 46-year-old.
A disappointed Irawan remains hopeful of clinching his second professional title in as many months but knows that he needs a hot start tomorrow if he is to chase down his training partner.
“I felt a little nervous at the start and pulled my first shot into the bunker. From there onwards, I was just battling to stay in touch with Mardan. It was just one of those days when I hit my shots really well but couldn’t buy a putt. Gave myself many good chances that just went begging,” shared the 24-year-old.
“I’ve got nothing to lose tomorrow and just have to get my feel for the greens a lot quicker and try to narrow the gap. Anything can happen on this golf course and I have to be ready to capitalise,” added Irawan.
An in-form Chia arrived in Kota Kinabalu on a positive note after coasting to a comprehensive victory over Mamat at a winners-only tournament on the domestic Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour last Saturday and is eyeing a sensational back-to-back victory over his fellow veteran.
“I have been striking the ball with a lot of confidence over the last couple of months but it has taken me a few days to acclimatise to the greens here. I was four-under on the par-fives today and if I can keep that up tomorrow, I think I have a decent chance of making a dent in Mardan’s lead,” noted the 42-year-old Chia, whose last win on the ASEAN PGA Tour came in 2008 at the Mercedes-Benz Masters Thailand.
Leading third round scores (Par-71) >
Malaysian unless stated
206 – Mardan Mamat (SIN) 69-66-71
210 – Arie Irawan 71-66-73
211 – Danny Chia 73-71-67, Nicholas Fung 73-72-66, Ratchapol Jantavara (THA) 70-72-69
212 – Ben Leong 74-69-69, Kwanchai Tannin (THA) 72-71-69, Pipatpong Naewsuk (THA) 69-71-72, Jay Bayron (PHI) 70-72-69, Masaru Takahashi (JPN) 73-66-73
213 – Khor Kheng Hwai 69-75-69
214 – Chien Hau Tan 69-76-69, Antonio Lascuna 75-71-68, Joeh Seik (INA – am) 72-71-71, Sutijet Kooratanapisan (THA) 69-73-72, Mohd Shaaban Hussin 70-71-73, Mohd Sukree Othman 73-68-73