Kuala Lumpur, July 25: Ben Leong took advantage of near benign conditions to fire an impressive seven-under-par 65 for a three-shot lead in the first round of the CIMB National Championship at TPC Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
The 31-year-old Leong pulled ahead of the chasing pack in the qualifying event for the prestigious CIMB Classic, thanks to a brilliant round where he hit 18 greens in regulation and sank eight birdies.
Veteran Danny Chia, who is bidding for a sixth appearance at the CIMB Classic which will be played at TPC KL from October 12 to 15, carded a 68 to share second place with surprise package, Mohd Zur’ie Harun.
The 42-year-old Zur’ie was the only golfer in the 78-man field to keep the bogeys off his card in the RM200,000 tournament. A further stroke back are rookie professional Amir Nazrin Jailani, 20, and Wilson Choo, who shot matching 69s.
Title holder Gavin Green traded three birdies against as many bogeys for a 72 to trail by seven strokes in the tournament which rewards the champion with RM30,000 and a coveted spot in the CIMB Classic, which is the only PGA TOUR tournament staged in Southeast Asia and also sanctioned by the Asian Tour.
Did you know:
Leong won the SapuraKencana National Classic, previously the qualifying tournament, in 2015 and subsequently finished tied 64th in his lone appearance to date at the CIMB Classic. He was defeated by Green in the first hole of a play-off in the qualifying tournament last year.
Leong has won six PGM Tour events over the last 18 months and was also victorious on the Asian Development Tour in March. He also holds one Asian Tour victory with his win at the 2008 Selangor Masters where he beat Thongchai Jaidee in a head-to-head final round duel.
Starting his round from the second nine, Leong birdied the 10th, 12th and 18th holes and picked up more shots on the first, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth holes. His lone bogey was a three putt on the 14th hole.
Chia, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, won the qualifying event for the CIMB Classic in 2012 and 2014. He also played in the PGA TOUR tournament in 2011, 2015 and 2016 where his best finish at the CIMB Classic was tied 13th in 2011.
Chia made birdies on the first, fourth, sixth, 10th and 16th holes. His lone bogey came on the third hole after he drove his ball out of bounds.
Zur’ie is winless on the local tour, with four career runner-up finishes. He is also a teaching professional and club fitter in a local golf club in KL.
Starting from the back nine, he birdied the 16th and 17th holes and made further gains on the fifth and seventh holes.
The CIMB National Championship will be played over four rounds. The previous SapuraKencana National Classic, which was the qualifying event for the CIMB Classic, was staged over three rounds.
The CIMB National Championship, which is sanctioned by the Professional Golf Association of Malaysia (PGAM), is also an official event on the PGM Tour.
The CIMB Classic will be the second tournament on the 2017/18 PGA TOUR schedule, offering full FedExCup points. The event is also sanctioned by the Asian Tour.
Ben Leong, First Round 65 (-7)
It’s always nice to be back in familiar territory. A lot of great memories here. The course is in great shape, the greens and fairways are really good. I putted really well. My playing partner told me after the round that I hit 18 greens in regulation which I didn’t realize. I’ve been working on my game quite a bit, especially my long game. I’ve been struggling a bit with that side of my game.
This week, it will mean a lot if I can qualify for the CIMB Classic. However, it would mean more if I can get in through the Asian Tour’s top-10 where the money earned will count towards the Order of Merit. I’ll take what the game gives.
I played well last year to win four times on the PGM Tour. And this season, I’ve won twice locally but I’ve missed a few cuts on the Asian Tour. I am working on my consistency and hopefully I can peak at the right time when the season gets really busy.
The eight birdies that I made were from within the range of eight to 15 feet, so my iron play was pretty good. The longest one that I made was from 20 feet.
Danny Chia, First Round 68 (-4)
I hit it solid except for the par five third hole where I hit it out of bounds. Thankfully I was able to make bogey there but the rest of the round was pretty good. Hit it close on the front nine. I made sure that I kept myself in the round. Whenever I made a bad shot, I recovered well. I had some trouble reading some greens.
This is a good start but I expect a lower score to come in later. I just told myself to put myself in position and to not be too far back from the lead after the first day.
Mohd Zur’ie Harun, First Round 68 (-4)
I just kept it simple, aimed for fairways and greens. The conditions here are really good and it makes it easier for us. I read the greens well, thanks also to my caddie who helped read the lines. I missed an eagle on 16 when my approach stopped just short of the hole and also on the seventh where I nearly holed out my approach shot. Some of my second shots were really good.
I’ve not won any professional tournaments in my career, and finished second on four occasions. I’m not setting any targets this week, I just want to keep my feel going for the remainder of the week. All in all, it was a good day.
Amir Nazrin Jailani, First Round 69 (-3)
I was just trying to keep up with Danny (Chia) and learn from him. I kept to my own game and stayed positive throughout the round. I made six birdies against three bogeys and I was happy that my approach play was pretty good.
I turned professional last December. I started playing golf on my own, started at the age of seven when Tiger Woods was world number one and on fire with his game. I represented Malaysia in the SEA Games two years ago and the Putra Cup previously. Playing professional golf was always my dream and I put my academics aside to focus on my golf. I hope to continue with the same thing tomorrow, just stick to my routine and keep things positive.
Wilson Choo, First Round 69 (-3)
I started on the 10th and hit into the water to make an opening bogey. I made another bogey on 13 again after my par attempt made a 360 lip out. Made a birdie on 17 from about eight feet after hitting a good wedge in and it boosted my confidence. I got back to even par with a birdie on one and then made birdies on three, five and nine. The closing birdie was nice as I took a gamble with a pitching wedge over some trees to about 20 feet which I holed the birdie putt.
I didn’t put expectations on myself today. I’ve also been working on my putting as Danny (Chia) told me that I was looking up too quickly after hitting my putts. That helped today. I’m just stroking it better.
Leading first round scores
65: Ben Leong
68: Danny Chia, Mohd Zur’ie Harun
69: Amir Nazrin Jailani, Wilson Choo
71: Mohamad Iylia Jamil, Shaifubari Muda
72: S. Siva Chandran, M. Sasidaran, Gavin Green, Muhammad Wafiyuddin
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