Chia eyes early Olympics boost at Sabah Masters

Danny Chia

Kota Kinabalu [SABAH]: Malaysian number one Danny Chia is eager to get his 2016 season off to a flying start with a winning performance at the Warisan Harta Sabah Masters, which starts tomorrow.

The 43-year-old will hope to go one better at Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club as he headlines a strong domestic challenge against some of the region’s top draws including titleholder Mardan Mamat of Singapore and Thailand’s Wisut Artjanawat, who triumphed in 2011 and 2014.

Also in the field for the US$100,000 ASEAN PGA Tour season ending event are 2013 champion Antonio Lascuna from the Philippines as well as emerging talent Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand, who has two professional titles to his name at the tender age of 16.

Sabah faithfuls are expected to come out in droves to support local stars Nicholas Fung, Ben Leong and Lam Yu Shuen, who will hope to become the first Sabahan to lift the prestigious trophy.

The storied tournament, which was revived in 2011, boasts a new title sponsor in Warisan Harta Sabah and welcomes the Asian Development Tour as a sanctioning partner for the first time, promising the top six finishers with valuable Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.

Chia finished runner-up behind Mamat last year and believes that he can continue on his amazing run in 2015, which saw him victorious on three fronts – the Asian Tour, Asian Development Tour and the domestic Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour.

“Last year, I got off to a hot start with a win and a runner-up finish in my first two events and that was really the building blocks for my incredible season. It was nice to reflect on a my solid run in 2015 and look at how I can improve on that,” shared Chia.

“I was back with my physiotherapist last week to continue on my strength-building regime. But overall, I am feeling relaxed after a good Christmas break and am raring to go!

“There is OWGR points on offer this week and I feel that with the Olympics on the horizon, I need to strengthen my claim for a spot in the elite Rio de Janeiro field. So there’s much to play for even though it’s only the first event of the season,” added Chia, who is placed 54th in the men’s Olympic Rankings.

Local hero Fung has a mixed bag of results to show so far at his “home” tournament and hopes to get his season underway with an inspired display. His best finish came in 2011 when he finished tied second behind Wisut.

“It is nice to start my season at home. Staying in my own house and driving to the club is quite refreshing for a change. The Sabah Masters means a lot to all the Sabahan players involved and the attention will definitely be on us to perform this week.

“I don’t want to put too much of pressure of myself but being in contention this week will be a positive result. A bit rusty after a few weeks off but I played here a couple of times before my break, so I have the course figured out,” noted the Kota Kinabalu native, whose professional breakthrough came on the ASEAN PGA Tour when he won the Mercedes-Benz Masters Vietnam in 2010.