Asian Tour stalwart Danny Chia of Malaysia produced a flawless five-under-par 67 to seize the opening round lead at the PGM Sabah Championship on Wednesday.
Chia, a one-time Asian Tour winner, nailed five birdies at the Sabah Golf and Country Club to grab a one-shot advantage over Thai wonder kid Phachara Khongwatmai, who took second place after trading five birdies against a lone bogey.
Order of Merit leader Hsieh Chi-hsien of Chinese Taipei signed for a 70 to share third place with five other players including reigning Order of Merit champion Pavit Tangkamolprasert of Thailand, Canadian Lindsay Renolds and Singapore’s Koh Deng Shan in the RM200,000 (approximately US$55,400) event.
Chia took advantage of his booming drives to place himself in the hunt for a third victory on the Asian Development Tour (ADT), which was inaugurated in 2010 as a gateway to the premier Asian Tour.
“I hit a lot of fairways today and I gave myself a lot of good opportunities for birdies. But having said that, it was pretty tough out there. The greens were firm and we were playing on cow grass which made it difficult to control the ball,” said the 42-year-old Malaysian.
“You will need a bit of luck to score I would say. Hitting the ball onto fairways would be the key to play well here,” added Chia.
Phachara, who just turned 16 three days ago, proved his worth as one of the region’s rising stars after getting off to a commendable start in what is his debut appearance at the PGM Sabah Championship.
The talented Thai holds the record of being the youngest winner on the region’s burgeoning Tour after winning his first ADT title in Malaysia two months ago. He defeated Chia who settled for a tied-second place finish in that event.
“This is a challenging golf course but I am happy with how I played. My game’s feeling good at the moment. I putted well and I hit the ball really good,” said Phachara.
“Winning on the ADT in March gave me a lot of confidence in my game and it shows that I can compete against the good players out here,” said Phachara, who had earlier secured his Asian Tour card for 2015 when he finished inside top-40 at the Qualifying School in January.
Koh was delighted to regain some good form after enduring a poor putting spell in the past few weeks.
“I hit the ball good and I putted well. I got some putting tips from Choo (Tze Huang) and Arie (Irawan) at the practice green yesterday. Arie told me to focus more on my target instead of my stroke. I’m glad it worked out. I made a lot of six to 10 footers today,” said the 26-year-old Singaporean, who mixed his card with three birdies against one bogey.
Since it was inaugurated as a gateway to the Asian Tour in 2010, the ADT has grown from five events in the first year to a record 21 tournaments in both 2014 and 2015.
The ADT will continue to reward the top-five finishers on the Order of Merit at the end of this season with Asian Tour cards for 2016.
With the Olympic Games looming in 2016 where golf will be reintroduced as a medal sport, players in the region could earn their spots in Rio de Janeiro by earning Official World Golf Ranking points through the Asian Tour and ADT.
For more information on the ADT, please visit www.asiandevelopmenttour.com
Leading first round scores
67 – Danny CHIA (MAS)
68 – Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA)
70 – HSIEH Chi-hsien (TPE), Lindsay RENOLDS (CAN), KOH Deng Shan (SIN), Sutijet KOORATANAPISAN (THA), Pavit TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA), Zen DHARMARATNE (MAS)
71 – YE Jian-feng (CHN), Pannakorn UTHAIPAS (THA), Mitchell SLORACH (SIN), Ratchapol JANTAVARA (THA)
72 – Chanat SAKULPOLPHAISAN (THA), Arie IRAWAN (MAS), Itthipat BURANATANYARAT (THA), Danthai BOONMA (THA), Darren TAN (AUS), Nils FLOREN (SWE), Gyeongjun LEE (KOR), Donlaphatchai NIYOMCHON (THA)