With the winner earning a spot in the US$7 million CIMB Classic in October, Chia, who is an Asian Tour winner, put himself in line for a fourth appearance with three birdies against two bogeys at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
The in-form Leong, who has finished runner-up twice on the local circuit in the past two weeks, snared four birdies against three dropped shots while Nachimuthu joined them atop the leaderboard with a similar card as Chia.
Wilson Choo carded a 72 for sole fourth place while Green, who was a world?s top-10 amateur golfer before joining the professional ranks in June, returned a 73 along with Nicholas Fung, Irfan Yusoff and Sukree Othman.
Chia, 42, was delighted with his solid start. “I was striking the ball a lot better today after taking a bit of a break recently. So I?m quite happy with the score. This is where you want to be after the first day and I?ll be trying to stay in this position,” said Chia.
“Everyone is trying to win the SapuraKencana National Qualifier as there?s a big reward that comes with it. I?ve played in the CIMB Classic on several occasions and it?s a great event to be in.”
The 29-year-old Leong, who won an Asian Tour title in 2008 before his career was curtailed by a back injury, extended his solid run of form to stay in the chase for a spot in the CIMB Classic, which is sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and Asian Tour.
“I?ve been playing solid the last two weeks, just hitting greens and making my fair share of putts. I?ve finished second twice over the last two weeks, so I just need that little bit of luck to win here. I?ve played on this course at the Malaysian Open on so many occasions but I?ve never made the halfway cut. So this is a nice chance for me to get something right.
“I?ll just take it one day and one shot at a time. There?s no point thinking too far ahead in this game as anything can still happen. But it?s nice to see that the work I?ve put in recently has resulted in some good form.”
Like Leong, veteran Nachimuthu is also chasing for a first appearance at the CIMB Classic.
“I?m happy. I putted really well and rolled the ball good. It?s a tough course as you?ve got to hit it straight to give yourself a chance. I?ve been trying to qualify for the CIMB Classic over the years but have never succeeded. I?ll keep trying this week,” said the 44-year-old.
Green drove the ball poorly, hitting only two fairways as he scrambled to a round of 73 but remained within touching distance of the co-leaders.
“Off the tee, it was terrible and on this course, you really need to get it on the fairways. Thankfully, my mid and short game saved me. I?ve made some changes to my swing recently and it?s coming around. I just need to keep working on it,” said Green, who recently graduated from the University of New Mexico.
“Without my ‘A’ game, I?m still close to finishing under par. I?m not going to think too much about the ticket the CIMB Classic. I?m just going to focus on my own game. The players here are good players and you need to play good golf. If I can shoot under par over the next two days, it could be good enough.”
The CIMB Classic, to be held from October 29 to November 1, will be the third event of the 2015 – 2016 FedExCup Season on the PGA TOUR. Offering full FedExCup points, the CIMB Classic will feature 78 players – 60 from the PGA TOUR, 10 from the Asian Tour and eight sponsor?s exemptions.
Out of the eight sponsor?s exemptions, CIMB Classic accords two spots for Malaysians. The second spot will be given to the highest ranked Malaysian golfer on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as at October 19. If the winner of the SapuraKencana National Qualifier is also the leading Malaysian in the OWGR, the second spot will automatically go to the next best-ranked Malaysian on the OWGR.