Local hotshot Ben Leong rode on a hot putter to sign for a bogey-free eight-under-par 64 and lead by one shot in the opening round of the PGM Northport Championship on Wednesday.
The 31-year-old Malaysian took advantage of the near-perfect greens as he fired eight birdies at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club’s Garden course, which hosted the prestigious EurAsia Cup in 2014 and 2016.
Scotland’s James Byrne and Filipino Jay Bayron carded matching 65s to share second place while Asian Tour winner Steve Lewton of England posted a 66 to take fourth place on his own at the RM200,000 (approximately US$44,600) Asian Development Tour (ADT) event.
American Blake Snyder, who won the event two years ago, returned with a 68 to stay four shots off the pace in fifth place alongside local prospect Leunkwang Kim, Singapore’s Quincy Quek, Thai duo Itthipat Burantanyarat and Pannakorn Uthaipas.
Order of Merit leader Brett Munson of the United States closed with three straight birdies to tie in 17th place on 70 while defending champion Gavin Green of Malaysia recorded a 73 for tied-71st position.
Leong, a one-time winner on the Asian Tour in 2008, was pleased to get off to a strong start where he navigated his way around the course with only 25 putts.
“The greens are soft and that makes it easier for me when I played in the morning. Putting was the key to my low score. It is always the key to a good round. The longest putt I holed today was a 20-footer on 14,” said the 31-year-old Leong.
The talented Malaysian had sensationally claimed five straight victories on his domestic Tour at the end of last season before regaining his Asian Tour card at the 2017 Qualifying School in January, where he came in fourth.
“I have been sticking to my routines. I am not thinking too much on my golf actually. I am just focusing on my physical fitness now. I am happy with the way I started and I look forward to the next round,” added Leong.
Byrne, a two-time winner on the ADT, credited his pinpoint approach shots for a solid round where he missed only two greens in regulation.
“There was no wind when I played. It was pretty easy out there. The greens were good and I managed to hole some putts. My approach shots were good too. I gave myself a lot of chances for birdies,” said the 28-year-old Byrne.
“The highlight for me today was on the first hole. I drove my tee shot into the trees on the right but I managed to hit my second shot to about 15 feet from the pin and holed the putt for birdie,” added Byrne, who marked his card with eight birdies against a lone bogey.
The PGM Northport Championship is the third leg of the ADT schedule this season. The winner will take home a winner’s prize purse of about US$8,340 and receive six Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
Like all other ADT events, the tournament will also offer OWGR points to the top six players and ties based on a sliding scale.
The ADT, which is celebrating its seventh season this year, will continue to reward the top-five finishers on the Order of Merit at the end of this season with Asian Tour cards for 2018.
For more information on the ADT, please visit www.asiandevelopmenttour.com
Leading first round scores:
64 – Ben LEONG (MAS)
65 – James BYRNE (SCO), Jay BAYRON (PHI)
66 – Steve LEWTON (ENG)
68 – Blake SNYDER (USA), Itthipat BURANATANYARAT (THA), Leunkwang KIM (MAS), Pannakorn UTHAIPAS (THA), Quincy QUEK (SGP)
69 – Donlaphatchai NIYOMCHON (THA), Mathiam KEYSER (RSA), Suradit YONGCHAROENCHAI (THA), LAM Yu Shuen (MAS), Nicholas PAEZ (USA), John Michael O’TOOLE (USA), LOW Khai Jei (MAS)