Kuala Lumpur, October 25: India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar stood tall amongst the stars from the PGA Tour in the opening round of the CIMB Classic, shooting a fabulous six-under-par 65 to emerge as the leading Asian on Thursday.
The in-form Bhullar sank an eagle and five birdies at a sun-baked Mines Resort and Golf Club to trail American leader Troy Matteson by two strokes in tied fifth place in the US$6.1 million tournament sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour.
Danny Chia raised local cheers with a bogey-free 66 as he ended the day in joint seventh position alongside, with amongst others, 14-time Major champion Tiger Woods, who needed a back nine charge to haul himself into the tournament.
Bhullar arrived in the Malaysian capital in top form, winning twice on the Asian Tour over the past two months. The talented Indian nearly matched playing partner Robert Garrigus of the United States, who returned a superb 64.
“You know, this is my first visit to the CIMB (Classic) … I have been wanting to play in this event. It is my pleasure to be in the part of the field where Tiger Woods is playing,” said Bhullar. “We just enjoyed our 18 holes. He (Garrigus) shot a good round today, and I also played good. I’m looking forward to the next three days.”
He made three birdies through eight holes before dropping his lone bogey of the day on nine. On the inward stretch, Bhullar struck a purple patch from the 14th hole when he nailed two birdies before rolling in a snaky 15-foot eagle putt on 17.
“Trust me, that was a killer putt. That’s probably the best putt of this season. I never expected it to break so much from the right, and first when I hit it, I thought I might be missing from the right. But it just died out in the hole,” he said.
With fellow Asian Tour colleagues Chia and Jbe Kruger of South Africa, who also shot a 66, starting well, Bhullar is not discounting an Asian winner emerging at the CIMB Classic. The first two editions saw Americans Ben Crane and Bo Van Pelt winning the tournament.
“All these PGA Tour guys, they have made a name for themselves, and it is our pleasure to go out with these guys and to play well. I think the Asian Tour is moving ahead. We are going in a positive direction. You never know this week, it could be an Asian Tour player’s week.”
The slightly built Kruger was seven under for the day with one hole to play but came back down the field with an unfortunate double bogey six on the last. His consolation though is that he earned a pairing with Woods for Friday’s second round.
“I actually bent my eight iron on the fourth hole and I had a flier lie, so I couldn’t use a nine iron on 18 as I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t hit a seven iron. I needed eight iron, and it’s bent so I can’t use it. And then I compensated a little, hit it in the bunker and didn’t hit a very good shot and missed the putt.
“I think I can definitely go lower than I went today, but I can’t really hit it a lot better than that.”
Local hope Chia, who finished tied 13th in last year’s CIMB Classic, was rock solid as he racked up five birdies on the card. He felt jittery arriving at the Mines Resort in the morning but aftera solid opening tee shot, Chia played flawlessly.
“You know, when I was driving into the entrance, I already can feel like the pressure is building up. The closer to the clubhouse, I felt like a rabbit was jumping inside of me. But fortunately I managed to calm myself the minute I teed off,” said Chia.
“I didn’t try any silly shots, I just played what I had to do. I was pretty calm, didn’t really try to surprise myself or make myself get excited. I holed a few good putts,” he said.
Current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand scrambled to a 72 in a round that included four birdies, three bogeys and one double bogey.