Kuala Lumpur, April 12: South African Charl Schwartzel shot a sizzling eight-under-par 64 to hold a one-shot lead from India’s Jeev Milkha Singh after the opening round of the Maybank Malaysian Open.
The 2011 Masters Tournament champion reeled in nine birdies at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club as he took his place atop the leaderboard in the US$2.5 million event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
Singh, Asia’s number one in 2006 and 2008, fired an equally impressive 65 which included one eagle and six birdies while last week’s Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa showed no ill effects of his long trip from the United States with a 66 for a share of third place with American Jason Knutzon and Jyoti Randhawa of India.
Malaysia’s best finisher in the morning session was Maybank ambassador Shaaban Hussin, who returned a 70.
World number 12 Schwartzel, who finished tied 50th in his Masters defence last week, lighted up the West course with some brilliant shot-making and a hot putter where he made only 24 putts.
“I played very well today. It has been some time coming now because I have been working really hard for the last couple of months and I haven’t had anything happen for me. It could have been one or two lower as I missed a couple of chances towards the end there but I am happy with 64 – I haven’t shot a number like that for a while,” said the slender South African.
Playing alongside close friend Oosthuizen, Schwartzel turned in 33 before storming home with five more birdies.
“Louis and I got off to a good fast start at the beginning and it is always nice when there are a couple of you in the group playing well and pulling each other a long a bit. Louis is playing so well right that it is impressive to watch and helped me on,” said Schwartzel, who is seeking an eighth European Tour victory.
“Hopefully we can do the same again tomorrow. It is a long way to go and there are a lot of birdie opportunities out there but if I can keep playing the way I did today then I should have a chance on Sunday.”
Singh flew high with an opening eagle on the 10th hole, holing a 20-foot putt after setting up the chance with a wonderful three wood approach shot.
Injuries have often curtailed Singh’s game but the Indian veteran, who turned 40 last December, is injury free now and ready to add to his sixth previous victories on the Asian Tour.
“The beauty is that I’m feeling fit. That’s the most important thing because I can practice. I feel healthy and I think that things are going to get better as the year goes by,” said Singh, who is seeking for his first win since 2008.
“I have great memories here (in Malaysia). My professional career started here on the TDC Tour. My victory here previously always stays with me and coming back to Malaysia is always a great feeling. I have positive vibes coming back here. I love the country and the people,” added the Indian.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, shrugged off the disappointment of losing in a play-off at the Masters as he charged his way into contention with one eagle and six birdies on his card.
“I had a good night’s rest. This morning, I felt quite good. I knew the swing was still good. It was just adapting to the weather and the green speed. But I putted beautifully again today and hope to keep it going for the week.”
Randhawa, a former Asian Tour number one in 2002, reaped the benefits of a new putter where he made 27 putts.
“It’s been a while since I putted like this. I’m happy with how I putted. Last two weeks, I’ve been on the green putting and trying to get my feel back. I’m glad it came back. I’ve also changed putter this week and I think that’s helped,” said the eight-time Asian Tour winner.
Knutzon, a two-time Asian Tour winner, turned in 35 but came charging home with a flawless back nine highlighted by four birdies in the closing five holes.
“I haven’t played a lot actually. This is my fifth event. I’ve been enjoying time with my family, two kids and all that. Just kind of starting to get into it. I’m excited to be playing,” said Knutzon.
“There’s not a whole lot of drivers. The few that I hit, it was kind of like a truck-driver’s swing, kind of guiding it. Pretty straight but not real solid. My iron play was quite good today. Hit a lot of good shots with my irons.”
Round 1 scores:
64 – Charl SCHWARTZEL (RSA).
65 – Jeev Milkha SINGH (IND).
66 – Jason KNUTZON (USA), Louis OOSTHUIZEN (RSA), Jyoti RANDHAWA (IND).
67 – Antonio LASCUNA (PHI), Rafael CABRERA-BELLO (ESP), Stephen GALLACHER (SCO).
68 – Soren KJELDSEN (DEN), Joonas GRANBERG (FIN), Romain WATTEL (FRA), Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Ricardo GONZALEZ (ARG), Gaurav GHEI (IND).
69 – Marcel SIEM (GER), Pablo LARRAZABAL (ESP), Lorenzo GAGLI (ITA), Richard GREEN (AUS), Scott JAMIESON (SCO), Shiv KAPUR (IND), Anthony KANG (USA), Julien QUESNE (FRA), Simon DYSON (ENG), Branden GRACE (RSA), LEE Sung (KOR), LIN Wen-tang (TPE), Danny WILLETT (ENG), Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA).