Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Getty Images)
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat continued his excellent form to claim the clubhouse lead before thunderstorms forced play to be suspended during the opening round of the Maybank Malaysian Open.
The big-hitting 23 year old finished fourth in India last week, and fired eight birdies and a single bogey to start with a seven under par 65 in Kuala Lumpur.
Starting on the back nine, Aphibarnrat turned in 33, had three consecutive birdies from the third, then finished with a fine approach to four feet at the ninth.
That put the Asian Tour regular one ahead of France’s Grégory Bourdy, Dane Anders Hansen and former Ryder Cup Italian Edoardo Molinari.
The 30 year old Bourdy, who won the last of his three European Tour titles four years ago, birdied five of his first seven holes to set a blistering early pace – highlights including a tee shot to three feet at the short fourth and 15 footer at the next.
However, last month’s Africa Open runner-up could only find two further gains on the back nine, with a bogey at the 14th checking his progress slightly.
“It’s great to start the tournament like this,” he said. “Six under is a good score on this course.
“I finished second here two years ago, so I like the course a lot. It’s maybe one of the best we play all season and it’s in great shape again this year. The area is great also, and the weather is very good. I’m enjoying this event again and I hope my game stays like this until Sunday.”
Like Bourdy, Hansen has endured a four-year wait for a fourth European Tour title.
However, the 42 year old may feel like it is his week; especially after holing his iron approach from the rough next to the second fairway for eagle.
That was followed by a hat-trick of birdies to finish – the last of them from 12 feet - while Molinari had five gains in six holes from the 13th in his eight-birdie, two-bogey effort.
Hansen said: “It’s always nice to finish with three birdies. I plodded along all day and all of a sudden the putts started dropping at the end.
“I’m very, very pleased. I’ve been struggling a bit all year, but this week I’ve worked very hard on the range even though it has been so hot.
“I hit a lot of good shots today, although I had a couple of loose ones at the start. I hit it in the water on the first which wasn’t good, but I made a good recovery.
“I hit some very solid golf shots yesterday in the pro-am and that gave me some confidence for today. It’s too hot to get frustrated so you just have to stick in there. It’s extreme and very difficult for everyone.”
Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington made a good start with a three under par 69 to share tenth, but World Number Three Luke Donald could only manage a 74 despite chipping in for birdie at the first.
As the afternoon session unfolded former Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel emerged as the biggest threat to Aphibarnrat’s lead.
The South African had birdies at the third and fourth before eagling the long fifth to turn in a four under 32.
In-form Scott Jamieson joined the group on six under when, having matched Schwartzel’s outward 32, he eagled the long tenth.
However, shortly after that play was suspended due to thunderstorms.