England’s Nick Dougherty produced the best round of his European Tour career, a ten under par 62, to race into a two stroke lead in the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kota Permai Golf and Country Club.
His round would have beaten the course record but for the preferred lies in operation and gave him an advantage over his close friend and fellow Englishman, Simon Dyson, and Australian Marcus Fraser, who both shot 64.
Two more European Tour champions - Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik and Dane Søren Kjeldsen - finished the day a further stroke back in seven under par alongside Malaysia’s Danny Chia, who is flying the home flag at the course where he was once attached, and South African Keith Horne.
Dougherty, taking advantage of the ideal morning playing conditions, birdied three of his first four holes after starting at the tenth but they paled behind his seven successive birdies from the 16th.
The moment the putt dropped for a two on the fourth to take him to ten under par, Dougherty’s mind inevitably pictured a magical 59. Three birdies in the last five holes, including a par five, was certainly achievable but from that point the putts refused to drop.
“I knew a 59 was on after I made that long birdie putt on the fourth so three birdies in the last five is not that tall an order, but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” said Dougherty. “I botched up the seventh for a five. Five and six weren’t great chances to be honest but the seventh, to miss the green with a three iron was poor and I missed the putt for birdie. I actually hit two great putts on the last two greens and I thought I’d made both of them. So it was there to be done but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Even still I’ll be still happy with the score I’ve got.”
Comparisons have been made between Dougherty and Dyson over the years with their careers following similar paths. Both have turned their backs on the party lifestyle and both have reaped the rewards with two European Tour titles apiece.
Dougherty’s maiden title came in Singapore while Dyson’s duly arrived in Indonesia a year later and neither player is fazed by the heat and humidity in the tropics. Dyson attributes that to the fact he comes to this part of the world well prepared, spending plenty of time in the sauna to get his body used to the conditions.
“I know what to expect,” said Dyson, who also won three times on the Asian Tour in 2000. “I prepare for it a week or two in advance and go in a sauna every day. I know I have to drink a lot. A lot of people don’t and think they are feeling fine and suddenly with four holes to go they are gone. It does help having played out here as you know what to expect, it is going to be uncomfortable but you drink a lot and get on with it.”
Fraser, benefitting from some help from local caddie, Guna Suntharaj , also posted a 64 after birdieing the final hole, continuing his good form from the previous week.
Chia, formerly attached to Kota Permai G&CC, was two under for the front nine but roared home in five under 31 to lead the Asian challenge in the event sanctioned by The European Tour and the Asian Tour. He has attributed his upturn in fortunes to work he has been doing with sports psychologist Andrea Prust.
“I couldn’t focus properly,” explained Chia. “I used to focus on the outcome and result. I have learnt a better pre-shot routine and learnt to keep going no matter what happens. That makes a difference. Since I started with my psychologist, things have got better.”
Heblom also got his defence of the Maybank Malaysian Open off to a solid start to lie in the group on six under par 66. Although his victory 12 months ago, his first win in 11 years, was on a different course, Hedblom was delighted to be back defending his title.
“I hit 18 greens in regulation today and it was really a long time since I hit 18 greens,” he said. “It was a great feeling knowing that I’m coming in as the defending champion. It is a good feeling that I was the last winner for this tournament and like I said it was solid even though it is a different course from last year.”