KUALA LUMPUR: Danny Chia, Ben Leong and R. Nachimuthu shot identical one-under 71s to share the first round lead in the SapuraKencana National Qualifier on Monday.
With the winner earning a spot in the US$7 million CIMB Classic in October, Chia put himself in line for a fourth appearance with three birdies against two bogeys at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
The in-form Leong, who has finished runner-up twice on the domestic circuit in the past fortnight, snared four birdies against three dropped shots while Nachimuthu joined them atop the leaderboard with a similar card as Chia.
Wilson Choo returned a 72 for sole fourth place while rookie professional Gavin Kyle Green fired a 73 to lie alongside Nicholas Fung, Irfan Yusoff and Sukree Othman.
The 42-year-old Chia was delighted with his solid start. “I was striking the ball a lot better today after taking a bit of a break recently. So I’m quite happy with the score. This is where you want to be after the first day and I’ll be trying to stay in this position,” he said.
“Everyone is trying to win the SapuraKencana National Qualifier as there’s a big reward that comes with it. I’ve played in the CIMB Classic on several occasions and it’s a great event to be in.”
The 29-year-old Leong, who won an Asian Tour title in 2008 before his career was curtailed by a back injury, extended his solid run of form to stay in the chase for a spot in the CIMB Classic, which is sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Asian Tour.
“I’ve been playing solid the last two weeks, just hitting greens and making my fair share of putts. I’ve finished second twice over the last two weeks, so I just need that little bit of luck to win here. I’ve played on this course at the Malaysian Open on so many occasions but I’ve never made the halfway cut. So this is a nice chance for me to get something right.
“I’ll just take it one day and one shot at a time. There’s no point thinking too far ahead in this game as anything can still happen. But it’s nice to see that the work I’ve put in recently has resulted in some good form.”
Like Leong, veteran Nachimuthu is also chasing for a first appearance at the CIMB Classic.
“I’m happy. I putted really well and rolled the ball good. It’s a tough course as you’ve got to hit it straight to give yourself a chance. I’ve been trying to qualify for the CIMB Classic over the years but have never succeeded. I’ll keep trying this week,” said the 44-year-old.
Leading first round scores (Par-72):
71 – Ben Leong , Danny Chia, R. Nachimuthu
72 – Wilson Choo
73 – Gavin Kyle Green, Irfan Yusoff, Nicholas Fung, Sukree Othman
74 – Anis Helmi Hassan, John Pang, Mohd Rizal Amin, S. Sivachandhran, Shaaban Hussin
75 – Kemarol Baharin, Kenneth De Silva, Kenneth Tobuse, Jeremiah Kim Leun Kwang, Nicholas Pua