Kota Kinabalu [SABAH]: Ben Leong trails the leading pack by a single stroke after the opening round of the Sabah Masters onThursday.
The 33-year-old local star capitalised on a flawless back nine display to return with a solid four-under 67 to sit in a share of fifth alongside in-form Joohyung Kim and Sungho Lee of Korea, India’s Rashid Khan and Wang Wei-lun of Chinese Taipei in the US$300,000 tournament.
“I got off to a good start. I played pretty alright. I thought it was playing quite tough out there. I got my putter working on my front nine today, which is the back nine of the course. I didn’t hit the ball that great but my putting saved me a bit,” said Leong.
“Dropped a shot on the first but still managed to drop some putts which kind of steadied the ship and I was able to build some momentum coming back. It was a patience game out there definitely,”
Leong, who is the only Malaysian to have clinched Asian Tour success on home soil, was pleasantly surprised with his effort as he negotiated the wind-swept Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club in fine fashion.
“Some holes I thought par would be a good score but I made birdie. Some holes I thought I need to make birdie but I made par. But overall, it’s a good start. The greens are a bit on the firm side today. The wind came up a bit mid round which makes it tougher.”
Another Malaysian to enjoy a hot start was big-hitting Amir Nazrin Jailani, who traded four birdies with a bogey to lie a further shot back.
Young Thai talent Phachara Khongwatmai took advantage of his solid approach shots to sign for a five-under-par 66 and grab a share of the opening round lead.
The 20-year-old Thai ignited his title ambitions after firing seven birdies against two bogeys to sit atop the leaderboard with Indonesia’s Joshua Andrew Wirawan, as well as Aaron Wilkin and David Gleeson of Australia at the Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club.