England’s Jamie Elson, the son of 1973 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, Pip, overcame a bout of food poisoning to shoot a six under par 66 in the opening round of the Carlsberg Malaysian and claim a share of the lead with South African Martin Maritz and Terry Price of Australia.
Having fallen ill after arriving from Australia earlier in the week, Elson was only able to play seven holes in practice. But using his experience of playing Saujana Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur, as an amateur in the 2002 Eisenhower Trophy, he picked up seven birdies including three to finish to join Maritz and Price at the top of the leaderboard.
Elson was a vital cog in victorious 2001 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side before turning professional and securing his European Tour card by graduating from the Challenge Tour in tenth place. Joining teammates Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty, Graeme McDowell, Richard McEvoy and Steven O’Hara on The European Tour this season, Elson is now looking to establish himself at the highest level.
Coincidentally both father and son are embarking on their rookie seasons in 2004, Jamie as a Challenge Tour graduate and his father on the European Seniors Tour as he turns 50 in April.
“I didn’t travel much with him when he was on The European Tour as I was just a nipper but growing up it is good to have someone to lean on and share things with, to have someone who knows the ins and outs of the game,” said Elson
“Having played here before I knew the course and that certainly helped. I putted nicely today. Hit the ball well off the tee and irons were fairly accurate. I only hit one bad shot on the par three fifth and dropped one. But reading the grain is key. The greens are very grainy.”
For much of the day Maritz, one of the tallest players on The European Tour, was looking down on the field after posting his 66 in the morning. Starting at the tenth, the six foot five inch tall South Africa got off to a shakey start with a bogey on the 11th but bounced straight back on the next hole and made a significant move with four birdies in five holes around the turn. Even a topped tee shot on the 17th, which travelled all of 100 yards, failed to dampen his round as he responded to the resulting bogey with a final birdie to set the early target.
“I have been waiting for something to happen,” he said. “I feel I am close to achieving some of my goals. I haven’t had the greatest of starts this year but finished 21st last week in Australia which was encouraging. I brought that form here this week.”
Price, with former Australian rugby league player Tim Brasher on the bag for the first time, shrugged off a neck injury he has carried for the past week to match the scores of Elson and Maritz. Price has been on a good run of form having won the New Zealand Open and finishing 20th in the Heineken Classic before the neck injury. Indeed, he was considering withdrawing from the event until the physios managed to ease the problem.
The home crowd also had plenty to cheer about with Malaysian Airil Rizman Zahari lying just one stroke off the pace in fourth on five under par with no fewer than ten players gathered on four under par including one of the pre-tournament favourites Paul McGinley.
Fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington, playing in his first tournament of the year after a nine-week break posted a pleasing 69 to lie in the share of 15th place.