Thailand’s Natthapong Niyomchon fired an opening six-under-par 66 to hold a slim one-shot lead at the PGM CCM Rahman Putra Championship on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old, who is without a win since turning professional in 2005, carded seven birdies to lead the chasing pack at the RM200,000 (approximately US$55,400) Asian Development Tour (ADT) event.
ADT champions Quincy Quek of Singapore and James Byrne of Scotland tied for second place alongside Jordan Irawan of Indonesia and Jordan Sherratt of Australia at the Kelab Rahman Putra Malaysia.
Local ace Danny Chia, defending champion Brett Munson of the United States and Englishman Christopher Canon were among those bunched in sixth place after returning on matching 68s.
Natthapong took advantage of a hot putter where he made 27 putts including two important birdies putts from inside 15-feet on holes 12 and 13. The Thai was delighted to be in position to battle for a first career title.
“My putting was good and the two big birdie putts helped,” said Natthapong. “I like this course because I can hit long drives and I feel comfortable reading the lines on the greens. It is going to be exciting because I haven’t won before.”
Newly-wed Quek, who won his first ADT title in the Philippines in 2012, put in a solid performance highlighted by a chip-in birdie from the edge of the 11th green.
“Gave myself birdie chances and I was quite consistent. I was rolling the putts well too and made long birdies putts on 10, 16 and five. I guess having a more stable personal life helps on the golf course too,” said Quek, who married his long-time girlfriend Celine in December.
The 19-year-old Irawan was pleased to see his hard work pay off during the off-season where he worked diligently on his course management.
“My game is better this year compared to last year. I practised harder and smarter. Starting in the middle of last year, I looked at my statistics and tried to work on my course management,” said Irawan.
“In the past, I would always attach the pin but I learnt from my mistake and now I play much better golf. I put what I practised on the course today and only attacked the pin on certain holes,” explained the Indonesia, who opened with an eight-foot eagle putt.
The ADT will 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:
66 – Natthapong NIYOMCHON (THA)
67 – Quincy QUEK (SIN) , Jordan IRAWAN (INA) , James BYRNE (SCO) , Jordan SHERRATT (AUS)
68 – Settee PRAKONGVECH (THA) , Atthaphon SRIBOONKAEW (THA) , Christopher CANNON (ENG) , Brett MUNSON (USA) , Danny CHIA (MAS) , Shane SMITH (USA) , Thammanoon SRIROJ (THA) , Sutijet KOORATANAPISAN (THA)
69 – Dominic FOOS (GER) , Gyeongjun LEE (KOR) , Casey O’TOOLE (USA) , Poosit SUPUPRAMAI (THA)
70 – Ervin CHANG (A) (MAS) , Mitchell SLORACH (SIN) , Adam BLYTH (AUS) , Tirawat KAEWSIRIBANDIT (THA) , Erwan VIEILLEDENT (FRA) , KHOR Kheng Hwai (MAS) , Sukree OTHMAN (MAS) , Airil Rizman ZAHARI (MAS) , Azhar TAHIR (MAS)
71 – Ratchapol JANTAVARA (THA) , Malcolm KOKOCINSKI (SWE) , R. Nachimuthu (MAS) , Rizal AMIN (MAS) , Poom SAKSANSIN (THA) , Teemu PUTKONEN (FIN) , LOW Khai Jei (A) (MAS) , Kenneth DE SILVA (MAS) , Hans JAMIL (MAS) , Pavit TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA) , Lindsay RENOLDS (CAN) , Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA) , Mathiam KEYSER (RSA) , Annop TANGKAMOLPRASERT (THA)