Kajang [SELANGOR]: Ben Leong’s rich vein of form spilled over into the New Year as the Sabahan clinched the season-opening Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Sime Darby Impian Championship on Saturday.
The 30-year-old fired a brilliant six-under 66 to pip youngster Shahriffuddin Ariffin by two shots at the Impian Golf & Country Club – extending his winning streak on the burgeoning local circuit to five events.
Leong started the final round three shots off the pace from co-leaders Shahriffuddin and Kemarol Baharin but charged his way to victory by draining six birdies in a flawless display, totalling 15-under 273 overall.
Playing in a championship flight for only the first time in his flourishing professional career, 16-year-old Shahriffuddin battled nerves with an aggressive display. He eagled the 17th to reduce the deficit to a single shot but a closing bogey meant he signed off with a 71.
The Malaccan nonetheless finished three strokes clear of third-placed Kemarol Baharin, whose bid for a fourth PGM Tour crown came undone by a disappointing two-over 74.
The quartet of Mohd Rizal Amin (68), Lion Goh (68), Irfan Yusoff (71) and Brandon Lau (73) settled for joint fourth on five-under 283 in the RM185,000 event.
Leading final results (Par-72) >
273 – Ben Leong 69-70-68-66
275 – Shahriffuddin Ariffin 71-67-66-71
278 – Kemarol Baharin 68-68-68-74
283 – Mohd Rizal Amin 72-69-74-68, Lion Goh 75-69-71-68, Irfan Yusoff 71-71-70-71, Brandon Lau 71-69-70-73, Muhd Amli Mohiyadeen 67-69-73-74
284 – Khor Kheng Hwai 71-72-71-70, Daeng Abdul Rahman Abdul Aziz (A) 69-71-72-72
285 – Arie Irawan 72-68-75-70
With his mind firmly set on securing his playing rights on the Asian Tour next week, Leong noted that the win came as a timely confidence boost.
“With the success I had at the end of last season, it was not difficult thinking about winning again in the new year. My big goal for 2017 was to regain my Asian Tour card and to go into final stage of qualifying school next week with this win in the bag is not going to hurt my chances,” said Leong.
“I played really well – I drove the ball good all week but was missing short putts, which could have made my life a lot more easier. I think crucially, the 14th proved to be a turning point today because I holed a short, downhill left-to-right birdie to stretch my lead to two strokes after missing similar attempts on the two previous holes. It proved important to have that cushion.”
While understandably delighted with his winning form, the soft-spoken Leong is careful not to raise expectations too high after a 2016 season where he won five tournaments en-route to finishing second on the domestic Order of Merit.
“I keep reminding myself not to get ahead of myself or get greedy now that I have won five in a trot. It’s a new season, every tournament week, every day – it’s still a process. I’m just going out there trying to gain more and more confidence, hitting more fairways, narrowing down my focus and just putting up good scores and hopefully, I can keep doing that,” shared the now eight-time PGM Tour winner.