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Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Malaysian Airil Rizman produced his best form in years to grab a three-shot first round lead with a five-under-par 66 at the RM1.2 million (US$300,000) Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters on Wednesday.
The 32-year-old, who nearly quit the game after two years of frustration, stormed home with five birdies at the challenging Seri Selangor Golf Club to head a pack of seven players, which includes India’s rising star Anirban Lahiri, former Asian Tour number one Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand, Myanmar’s Zaw Moe and Australian duo Scott Hend and rookie Brad Smith.
Following a breakthrough season in 2007 which saw Airil claim his maiden Asian Tour win at the Pakistan Open, his career went into a tail spin that he failed to produce a top-10 in two years. But a decision in March to revert to his old clubs and reuniting with coach Andrew Argus seems to be paying off.
“I never thought I would shoot this low. I got lucky a few times and I would love for the luck to continue till Saturday. I hit a few good shots on my back nine and holed all my putts,” said Airil, who hit only 10 greens in regulation but needed 24 putts in his round.
The slightly built Airil started his own golf academy and supplied premium items to local events when he started missing too many cuts but knew that he was good enough to bounce back.
“It’s been a while since I last played well. There have been so many factors (to his poor form) but mostly, it’s me. I should have not approached the game differently after winning,” Airil.
“There were occasions when I couldn’t get myself to tournaments. I started doing something else as it was so frustrating. Today was nice but it is still early days yet.”
Decorated Thai star Thaworn launched his quest for a record equalling 12th Asian Tour title with a five-birdie round for his best score at the par-71 Seri Selangor. “It’s my first time shooting a good score around this course,” said Thaworn, who missed the cut with cards of 74 and 73 in his only appearance at the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters last year.
“I don’t like it here as it’s very narrow and the slopes on the fairways and greens make it tough. If you get a bad bounce, you’re in trouble. I hit a few shots close for birdies and rolled in two birdies from just over six feet. But as you can see, it’s easy to drop shots.”
Moe rolled back the years by shooting five birdies against three dropped shots. The Singapore-based Moe credited a reunion with his old swing coach David Milne as the reason for his resurgence.
Like the tournament leader, Moe has also struggled over the last few years but the 44-year-old went back to “the basic stuff” with Milne. “I hit a lot of good shots but didn’t putt too well. But overall, I’m quite happy. I’ve been hitting the ball good and I’m starting to feel better on the golf course,” said Moe, whose lone win in Asia was the 1997 Singapore Open.
“I’m trying to get back to my old ways. I’ve been working too much on my swing before and we’re now getting back to the basics, stuff like the club face and swing plane.”
Smith, who earned his Tour card through Qualifying School, scrambled superbly to move into early contention. He hit only 12 greens but converted numerous putts from inside of 10 feet. I played steady and putted well,” he said “It’s hard to hit the fairways here because it’s so firm.”
The Australian made his first cut of the season in the Brunei Open last week and hopes it will springboard him to more success on the Asian Tour, the region’s elite circuit. “The first four events, I missed all four cuts. I had a bad heat stroke in Thailand and fell ill in India and then the other two events, I was close but missed the cut. Making the first cut last week was a settler a little bit. My game has been coming around but I haven’t been getting any results until last week.”

Asian Tour

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