Leong tops local challenge

Ben Leong
Ben Leong

KUALA LUMPUR: Ben Leong finished with a flourish to settle for top domestic honours at the CIMB Classic on Sunday.

A brilliant closing effort of six-under 66 saw the Sabahan move into joint 64th at the US$7 million tournament, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR.

Leong totalled three-under 285 to finish a stroke clear of two-time Asian Tour winner Danny Chia, who stumbled to a one-over 73 after three consecutive rounds of 71.

The nation’s other representative in the 78-player field – Arie Irawan – wound up with another dismal effort of two-over 74 to finish three spots off the bottom with a seven-over 295 overall.

Leong traded eight birdies with two bogeys to make up for a disappointing third round four-over 76 and picked up a pay cheque of US$14,630.

“I was trying to hit fairways, trying to hit it as close as possible to the pin. Just focused one shot at a time and keep it simple and smooth,” said Leong, who won the SapuraKencana National Qualifier to earn his spot in the elite field.

“I putted really well today. I made some really good five-to-six footers to keep the momentum going and converted some long ones as well. I guess I was in the zone today.

Despite struggling with his long game, Leong was pleased with his display, which marked another positive step in his bid to rebuild his career after a long spell on the sidelines due to a debilitating back injury.

“Definitely happy with my performance as it is my first PGA TOUR event. Nothing more I could ask for, especially finishing in red numbers, even though I’m like 20 shots behind the winner.

It’s always a big transition to step up from playing local tournaments to a big tournament like this. Everything is different – you’ve got the galleries, better players in the mix but if I get the chance to be in this environment more often, anything is possible,” said the one-time winner on the Asian Tour.

Danny Chia
Danny Chia

Chia meanwhile was counting the positives after another decent display, which not only saw him move past the RM1 million mark in earnings this season but also secured the Malaysian number one a slot at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions next week.

“Rather disappointed with the final round effort but I was just exhausted. I was trying really hard out there, but the body was not listening. Couldn’t make a putt all day,” shared the 42-year-old, who admitted that fatigue was catching up after 12 straight weeks on Tour.

“[It isn’t the most ideal situation to put my body under this pressure] but it feels great to be able to qualify to play in another elite field event in Shanghai this coming week. I will be interested to see where I can finish in the Asian Tour Order of Merit this year.”