The Englishman, whose 40 career wins includes 12 in Asia plus the 1997 Malaysian Open, brilliantly birdied his last three holes at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to maintain his fine form after finishing seventh at the Masters Tournament last week.
Westwood leads by one stroke from 2012 Ryder Cup teammate Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium while Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland and Ricardo Santos of Portugal were a further two shots back at the US$2.75 million event jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
South Africa’s Jbe Kruger, a winner on the Asian Tour, was a further three shots back following a 68 while EurAsia Cup hero Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand battled to a 69 for tied ninth place. Title holder Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand fought to a 71 to be six behind the leader.
The Maybank Malaysian Open was suspended in the afternoon for over an hour which means that 42 players will return at 7.40am to complete their opening rounds.
Westwood, a former world number one, opened his campaign with a bogey on the par five 10th hole but recovered with a late flourish. He birdied the seventh hole from eight feet and rammed home a huge 25-footer on eight. The Englishman completed a hat-trick of birdies with a 15-foot curler on the ninth hole.
“I didn’t make the best of starts but fortunately that didn’t set the tone for the day. I hit it really well and hit it close a lot. I had to be patient because I was hitting good putts and they weren’t going in,” said Westwood.
The world number 37 was delighted to continue his momentum from the year’s opening Major. “I played well last week and I’m happy to carry that on today. Obviously Augusta is slightly harder but if you’re shooting low-ish scores at Augusta, you should expect to come here and shoot low scores, which I did today.”
Belgian bomber Colsaerts rediscovered some his best form at the Maybank Malaysian Open, shooting three straight birdies from the 14th hole before adding three more birdies on his homeward nine to trail Westwood by one.
“It’s funny, I’ve waited for a round like this since January 1st. I just kept my momentum going and made a few bounce-backs. I parred the two par fives on the front which is a bit disappointing but I kept very patient and that in the end was what made a difference,” he said.
Prayad, an eight-time Asian Tour winner and a member of Team Asia which forced a draw with Europe in the inaugural EurAsia Cup in Malaysia last month, bounced back from a triple bogey seven to shoot a 69 playing alongside Westwood.
The smooth-swinging Thai, who won an event at home last week, hit two tee shots into the water on 17 but enjoyed six birdies on his card. “It was only that one hole which gave me a bad score. Otherwise I played very good from tee-to-green. Winning in Thailand and playing in the EurAsia Cup have given me added motivation. I hope I can continue playing like how I’ve been playing lately,” said the Thai veteran.
Kiradech was thankful for the weather disruption as he was two-over through 10 holes when play was halted. After tweaking his swing tempo with new coach Pompetch Saraputti during the break, the 24-year-old hit three birdies in his last seven holes.
“The rain came at the right time,” said the reigning Asian Tour number one.
“I tried to force myself and hit it hard in the front nine. I lost my tempo with my swing and didn’t hit my irons well. But in the last seven holes, I managed to hit it to the pins although I didn’t manage to hole too many putts. It’s a good come back. If I can play like how I did on the back nine, I should be okay. Six is not far behind.”
Scores after round 1 of the Maybank Malaysia Open 2014 being played at the par 72, 6967 Yards Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club course (a- denotes amateur):
65 – Lee WESTWOOD (ENG).
66 – Nicolas COLSAERTS (BEL).
67 – Michael HOEY (IRL), Ricardo SANTOS (POR).
68 – Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Julien QUESNE (FRA).
69 – Edoardo MOLINARI (ITA), Richard T. LEE (CAN), Prayad MARKSAENG (THA), Soren HANSEN (DEN), Bernd WIESBERGER (AUT), Eduardo DE LA RIVA (ESP), Craig LEE (SCO), Thaworn WIRATCHANT (THA).
70 – Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Bryce EASTON (RSA), Scott HEND (AUS), BAEK Seuk-hyun (KOR), Tommy FLEETWOOD (ENG), Raphael JACQUELIN (FRA), Wade ORMSBY (AUS), Arnond VONGVANIJ (THA), Antonio LASCUNA (PHI).