Luiten ahead by after rain-delayed IJO opener

Joost Luiten © Khalid Redza/AsianTour

Johor Bahru: Joost Luiten of the Netherlands continued his rich of form by shooting a scintillating eight-under-par 63 to lead in the first round of the Iskandar Johor Open.

Luiten, who finished in tied fifth in Singapore last week, birdied the last hole to hold a one shot lead over title holder and three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Australian Marcus Fraser, Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and Daniel Chopra of Sweden, who returned this morning to complete his opening round at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club.

The first round was suspended on Thursday with 78 players returning Friday morning (8.20 am) to complete their rounds. Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat led the Asian charge with a 65 while Charlie Wi of Korea, a seven-time winner in the region, was a further stroke back at the US$2 million event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

Luiten, who started on the 10th tee, peppered the flags with accurate approach shots and was rewarded with four straight birdies starting from the 15th hole.

“Yeah, that really got me going. Most of the putts were from only around three metres, so I was putting it pretty close. My longest putt was on my last hole, from around five metres. So that was a great way to finish,” said Luiten, who is searching for his first European Tour title.

“I played really well in Singapore, which gave me a lot of confidence to carry into this week. I’ve been putting very well lately. I made some nice putts, and hopefully that can continue in the next few days,” said the 25-year-old.

Harrington ignited his title defence with a superb 40 feet chip-in eagle on the 13th hole before adding six more birdies against one bogey.

“That was the kick-start I needed. I’d given myself a few chances early on, but didn’t hole the putts. So in the back of your mind you start to think that it might be one of those rounds which gets away from you, even though I’d struck the ball quite nicely. But then when I holed that chip, I started thinking that it might go my way after all,” said Harrington.

“I left a few shots out there, but I’m still very happy with the score. I’m a bit surprised the scoring in general isn’t a little lower than it is. In our group, we must’ve made at least 25 birdies between us, and in some ways we fed off each other,” said Harrington, who played with Wi and Lu Wei-chih of Chinese Taipei.

Fraser, winner of the 2010 Ballantine’s Championship in Korea, renewed his love for Asia in a flawless round highlighted by an eagle three on the 18th hole which he sank from 15 feet.

It has been a bittersweet season for Fraser who went through a neck surgery earlier in the year and welcomed a baby girl (Lily) to his family in July.

“It feels like I’m playing to about 80 or 90% of my potential. My injury is something that I have to monitor but it feels pretty good at the moment. Normally I would play about 20 or 25 tournaments by this time of the year but I welcomed my second child in the middle of the year and that has been pretty exciting,” said Fraser.

Korean Wi, a regular on the PGA Tour, birdied the opening hole before dropping two shots in the next two holes. He recovered with four straight birdies from the 13th hole but the highlight came when he holed out from the green side bunker on the second hole from 15 yards.

“I was very lucky with that! It was a very tough hole. When I had those two bogeys I was like, ‘Oh boy, I hope I don’t let this round get away.’ But I was able to make some birdies and I was pretty pleased,” said Wi.

Leading first round scores
63 – Joost LUITEN (NED).
64 – Padraig HARRINGTON (IRL), Marcus FRASER (AUS), Gregory BOURDY (FRA), Daniel CHOPRA (SWE).
65 – Chapchai NIRAT (THA).
66 – Charlie WI (KOR), James MORRISON (ENG), Nicolas MEITINGER (GER), Jamie MCLEARY (SCO).
67 – LU Wei-chih (TPE), Jose Manuel LARA (ESP), Henrik STENSON (SWE), Zaw MOE (MYN), SIDDIKUR (BAN), Christian NILSSON (SWE), Christian CEVAER (FRA).
68 – Anthony KIM (USA), Fredrik ANDERSSON HED (SWE), Stephen GALLACHER (SCO), Richie RAMSAY (SCO), Chinnarat PHADUNGSIL (THA), Joonas GRANBERG (FIN), Steven O HARA (SCO), Soren HANSEN (DEN), Gregory HAVRET (FRA).
69 – Guido VAN DER VALK (NED), Thongchai JAIDEE (THA), Louis OOSTHUIZEN (RSA), Adam BLYTH (AUS), Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA), Michael HOEY (NIR), Danny WILLETT (ENG), Ignacio GARRIDO (ESP), Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND), Rahil GANGJEE (IND), Kwanchai TANNIN (THA), Jamie DONALDSON (WAL), Scott BARR (AUS), Panupol PITTAYARAT (THA), Colin MONTGOMERIE (SCO), Camilo VILLEGAS (COL), Ross BAIN (SCO), Marcus BOTH (AUS), Alex CEJKA (GER), Mardan MAMAT (SIN), Peter LAWRIE (IRL), Michael JONZON (SWE), Steve WEBSTER (ENG), Marcel SIEM (GER).