Photo - Asian Tour
HARRINGTON SOARS WITH EAGLES FOR LEAD WITH KIRADECH, BOTH AT ISKANDAR JOHOR OPEN
Johor Bahru, Malaysia: Padraig Harrington of Ireland sank two late eagles for an eight-under-par 64 to share the first round lead at the Iskandar Johor Open with Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Australian Marcus Both on Thursday.
The Ryder Cup star marked his debut at the US$1.25 million Asian Tour event by opening with three straight birdies at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club before producing the fireworks late in the round.
Harrington, a three-time Major winner, drove the green on the par four 314-yard 16th hole for an eagle from 18 feet and then rolled in a 25-footer for a three at the par five closing hole as he made light of swirling winds that greeted the afternoon session players.
Thailand’s rising star Kiradech and Both, a two-time Asian Tour winner, also shot sparkling 64s in the morning while current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul of Korea impressed playing partner Harrington with a bogey-free 66 for tied fourth place with countryman Lee Sung.
Singaporean veteran M. Murugiah, Australia’s Scott Barr, Korea’s Hwang Inn-choon Sung and decorated Thai duo Thaworn Wiratchant and Prayad Marksaeng lie a further shot back on 67.
Chasing his first Tour victory since winning the PGA Championship in 2008, Harrington certainly showed his intent of ending his title drought with spectacular round.
“It was nice to finish eagle, par, eagle. That’s a rare thing to do. It certainly bumped up my score,” said a smiling Harrington, ranked 22nd in the world. “It’s a long way to go yet. You can always lose it on a Thursday but in regards to winning it, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“It was a tough day with the wind. It was an awkward day and it’s nice to return a score like that. I got the breaks and holed a few putts. At the end of the day, if you’re going to shoot a 64, you’ve got to hole a few putts. I certainly holed two nice ones on 16 and 18 and holed three 15 footers as well.”
The burly Kiradech, a former world junior champion, showed his liking for Malaysia once again by shooting one eagle and seven birdies while Both hit top form with a blemish-free card sprinkled with eight birdies.
The 21-year-old Thai has finished second, third and fifth in three of his last four visits to Malaysia and is eager to notch a first Asian Tour victory. “I played good golf today but had a lot of luck as well,” said Kiradech.
“Malaysia is the same as my home. I’ve played well here for the past three or four times. I’ve been working with my new coach Lerdwit Boonsombat where we’ve worked on my short game and improved my swing. My game has improved a lot.”
Both, winner of the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open last November, produced some scintillating play despite a season which has been lukewarm so far. He turned in 31 and was eight under through 12 holes before the birdies dried up, thanks largely to the winds which picked up.
“I’ve been playing better than my scores suggests. It was just a matter of time that I turned the corner and it’s been frustrating. But today is only one day. The putter feels much better which has been letting me down and wasting shots,” said Both, who credited a switch to a shorter putter and a tip from Grant Balcke recently for his better form on the greens.
Noh, winner of the Maybank Malaysian Open in March, trailed Harrington by three at the turn but caught up with his own solid finish where he posted two birdies and one eagle on his last five holes.
“It was very windy and my front nine was terrible. My second shots were not good and I had to make a lot of par saves. I changed my swing plane a little bit after the turn and it helped. I kept my focus although Padraig started better,” said the 19-year-old Noh.
World number 17 Goosen lamented his 68, saying he should have taken advantage of benign conditions in the morning. “Not really happy. The first nine were just perfect conditions. There was no wind and on the back nine, the wind picked up. I got off to a poor start, one over through three holes and my playing partners were two under through three so you feel a bit down,” said the South African, winner of the Iskandar Johor Open in 2008 and third last year.
“I really struggled to get going. My chances were there to get a good round in but didn’t take it. Didn’t putt well enough and then I hit a few poor shots. The first nine holes, you felt like you could birdie every hole.”
Title holder K.J. Choi of Korea birdied two of his last three holes for a 70, a score matched by Europe’s Ryder Cup winning captain Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, who felt the effects of the heat and humidity at Horizon Hills.
Malaysia’s leading performer was Iain Steel, who returned a 69 after a double bogey on his last hole. “I had 17 very good holes. I started very patiently in the first few holes and made birdie on the first hole (10th) and made a 100 footer on 17 which was a surprise. 17 good holes and I’ll take it forward to tomorrow,” he said.
The Iskandar Johor Open is shown live on the Asian Tour’s television platform which reaches over 40 countries worldwide.