Kuala Lumpur: Jeev Milkha Singh made a solid start at the Maybank Malaysian Open turning in a brilliant five-under 67 to lie tied third after the opening round of the USD 2.5 million showpiece event on Thursday.
Jeev was two strokes behind the surprise leader Alexander Noren of Sweden, who upstaged the big guns with a stunning eight-under-par 64 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Jeev, the two-time Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, shares the third place with Darren Beck of Australia, who has won once in the region, and Stephen Gallacher of Scotland.
The Chandigarh golfer sank six birdies against one bogey to wrap up an eventful opening day, which was suspended due to lightning.
"I played well today. I started off well too. Had a lot of birdie chances, hit a lot of greens. One errant shot with the driver on seven, went for it and ended in the right and got my only bogey," he said.
"I made six birdies. I birdied 14 which is a tough hole, birdied 17 and 18 to go to three under and got three more birdies on the back, five and six.
"I thought Hole seven was a birdie hole today as it was going downwind but didn`t hit it enough and it was a tough up and down from the bunker. Then I converted a 15-footer on the last.”
"I`m pleased, I`m happy with how I hit the ball. I had good distance control with the irons today and I rolled the ball well. I`m pretty pleased with the round and we`ll go from here for the next three days," he added.
Jeev, who has been battling with injuries, said he was being careful with his back and would have to work with his drivers more.
"In Morocco, I had a few good rounds. I need to be more consistent with this. I need to work more with the driver. I`ve been so protective of the back that I don`t give a lash with the driver. But I have to if I`m back in the game. I`m going to start hitting more drivers now," he said.
Things were not so great for the other Indians in the fray, as Shiv Kapur (71) in tied 35th place was the only other Indian under par.
Jyoti Randhawa (73) and Gaurav Ghei (73) in tied 68th, Gaganjeet Bhullar (74) in 99th, Anirban Lahiri (75) and Digvijay Singh (75) in 121st, Sujjan Singh (78) in 141st and SSP Chowrasia (79) in 148th have a uphill task to make the cut.
The day belonged to Noren who edged past early leader, Italian teen sensation Matteo Manassero (66), while young Irish star Rory McIlroy overcame his Masters Tournament hangover with a solid 69. His score was matched by reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.
World number one and PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer of Germany, playing alongside McIlroy, fired a 70 while newly crowned Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa struggled with fatigue and jetlag to card a one-over 73.
Noren, whose lone European Tour victory was the 2009 Omega European Masters, overcame some early jitters with five birdies and a bogey for an outward 32 which he matched coming home with four more birdies.
"I was really nervous going into this round. I don`t know why. I`m normally nervous after a little break. I had two weeks off and I worked hard on my game these two weeks," said the 28-year-old, who credited his putter for the hot start.
Manassero, who became Europe`s youngest winner at 17 years and 188 days last season when he won the Castello Masters in Spain, set the early target in his morning round.
He turned in 31 which included four straight birdies from the 15th hole and added two more birdies and a bogey in his homeward nine.
"Those four in a row were really good. They got me going from one-under to five-under straight away. It was a good push and I felt as if I had to keep going on the back nine," said
the dashing Italian, last year`s rookie of the year in Europe.
He will celebrate his 18th birthday next Tuesday and hopes to have the Seagram Trophy, which is awarded to the Maybank Malaysian Open winner, as an early gift. "It would be a nice way to celebrate my birthday," smiled the Italian.
McIlroy, who led for 63 holes at the Masters before tumbling with a disappointing final round 80, credited his caddie JP Fitzgerald for guiding him around the challenging course.
"From not seeing the course, three under is a good score. JP did a great job," said the Irishman, the world number nine.
"What hap pen ed last week is completely behind me now. There are more people upset about that round than I am. It`s one bad round. I`ll live and I`m getting on with it."
Kaymer failed to cope with the putting surfaces as he burned the edges of the cup on numerous occasions. "I was playing good golf. Obviously it is very difficult to make putts here. There`s a lot of grain. I gave myself a lot of chances so if I keep playing like this, maybe one of these days I will drop a few putts," said the German.
The dash halfway around the world to keep his commitment with the Maybank Malaysian Open seemed to have taken its toll on Schwartzel, who won the Masters with four closing birdies last weekend. Struggling in the notorious Malaysian heat, he stumbled to an opening 39 but fought back with two birdies.
"I felt uncomfortable and the swing wasn`t nearly as it good as it was. Not feeling good right now. I`m struggling to focus," said the slender South African.
"The body isn`t responding right now but it will come. Only good thing is that I didn`t put myself way out of it. I came back on the back nine, made two under which is moving in the right direction. A couple more of those under par and maybe by the 72nd hole, I`ll be close."