Thursday, February 12, 2009

Korean teennager sizzles

Kuala Lumpur, February 12: Korean teenager Noh Seung-yul fired a stunning 10-under-par 62 to snatch the first round lead at the Maybank Malaysian Open on Thursday.

The highly talented 17-year-old, the Asian Tour's rookie of the year last season, hit top form at Saujana Golf and Country Club's Palm course, sinking an eagle and nine birdies to lead by one stroke from playing partner Alexander Noren of Sweden.

Chinese star Liang Wen-chong, the 2007 Asian number one, carded a 65 to lie in tied third place alongside Frenchman Jean-Francois Lucquin, who was runner-up here two years ago.

A fine 66 from Danny Chia saw him carry the Malaysian challenge as he ended the day in a share of fifth place with England's Nick Dougherty and Australian Adam Blyth.

However, world number 11 Anthony Kim of the United States struggled on the greens in his Maybank Malaysian Open debut and signed for a 78 while two-time champion Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand carded a 69 to lie seven strokes off the pace.

Noh has taken Asian golf by storm after winning the Midea China Classic and registering three other runner-up finishes en route to 10th place on the Order of Merit last season.

Although his sizzling 62 was two shots better than the Saujana course mark, it will not be considered an official record as the preferred lie ruling was in operation. But Noh was elated to end the day atop the leaderboard.

"I didn't make any mistake and putted really well. I'm happy but you don't win a tournament on the first day," said Noh. "The course is not playing easy. It's a tough course but I played extremely well. I had a lot of good fortune."

An unlikely birdie on his opening hole at the par four 10th where he holed a 45-footer for birdie got Noh on his way but it was Noren who set the early pace with a blistering outward 30. The young Korean however came in strongly with a 31 to edge past the Swede. "Alexander played well at the start. I wasn't thinking of beating him but I just tried to catch him. He pushed me along," said Noh.

The Korean eagled the par five seventh hole with a superb two iron approach from 250 yards that landed 15 feet from the flag and then rolled in another 12-footer on the demanding eighth hole to seal his lead in the US$2 million event, sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

"The eagle on seven was pretty special. But 10 under today, every moment was a highlight. Every shot was a highlight," beamed Noh.

Noren, who is searching for his first win, opened with four straight birdies but was forced to play second-best to Noh. "He was just unbelievable. I seemed to be one ahead of him all day but then he birdied four, eagled seven and birdied eight to get one ahead of me. I had a lot of fun out there," said Noren.

Liang was delighted to stay hot on the leader's heels with his nine-birdie round. It was especially rewarding as the Chinese ace had to pull out of two events in the Middle East last month following a recurrence of an old wrist injury.

"I putted well and struck the ball well. I only missed a couple of shots which is quite important here," said Liang. "The course is not playing as difficult as before as the rough is down and the greens are receptive to good shots," said Liang.

Chia, who held the joint lead at the halfway stage last year, was thrilled to have another chance to contend at the Maybank Malaysian Open. "This is probably the best round I've shot here in Saujana," said Chia, whose card included a superb inward 31.

Wielding a conventional putter since the start of the year, Chia came to grips with Saujana's tricky greens. "I putted well and I was lucky over a few holes. I missed a putt on the fifth which cost me a bogey but everything turned around from there and I was putting well again," said Chia, who is hoping to become the first Malaysian to win the national Open.

Leading first round scores
62: Noh Seung-yul (Kor)
63: Alexander Noren (Swe)
65: Liang Wen-chong (PRC), Jean-Francois Lucquin (Fra)
66: Danny Chia (Mas), Nick Dougherty (Eng), Adam Blyth (Aus)
67: Airil Rizman (Mas), Rhys Davies (Wal), Juvic Pagunsan (Phi)
68: Ross Bain (Sco), Mitchell Brown (Aus), Andrew Coltart (Sco), Klas Eriksson (Swe), Jose Manuel Lara (ESP), Mikael Lundberg (Swe).

69: Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), S.S.P. Chowrasia (Ind), Shingo Katayama (Jpn)
78: Anthony Kim (USA)