Kuala Lumpur: It was an excellent day for India`s seasoned professionals as three of them ended the first day inside top-10 in the star-studded USD 2.5 million Malaysian Open sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
While Jeev Milkha Singh (65) was one off the leader, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Jyoti Randhawa found his touch with a 66 to be tied third and Gaurav Ghei (68), a three-time winner on Asian Tour, was tied ninth.
Among other Indians, Shiv Kapur (68) was tied 15th, Sujjan Singh (70) was tied 29th, but the rest had a fight on their hands to make the weekend cut.
Gaganjeet Bhullar, Himmat Rai and Digvijay Singh were tied 76th with 73 each, while SSP Chowrasia (74) was tied 95th and Anirban Lahiri (75) was further down in 109th place and Chiragh Kumar (76) was 123rd. Schwartzel, the 2010 Masters champion, shot a sizzling eight-under-par 64 to hold a one-shot lead from Jeev. Schwartzel reeled in nine birdies at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club as he took his place atop the leaderboard.
Jeev, Asia`s number one in 2006 and 2008, carded an impressive 65 that included one eagle and six birdies, while another South African Louis Oosthuizen, last week`s Masters runner-up, overcame a long flight with a 66 for a share of third place with American Jason Knutzon and Randhawa.
Jeev took off 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. He dropped a bogey on the very next hole, but after that there were no more lapses, as he added six more birdies, three on either side of the turn.
"I had a great start to the round (started from 10th tee). I hit a three-wood to 20 feet and holed that for eagle. That gives you a good push and a jump start. I only had one bogey on the 11th hole and came back with a bird on 12.
"I had a lot of birdie chances. I hit a lot of greens and my shots were close to the flags. I made a lot of putts too. I would take a round like that on this golf course any day," Jeev said.
More than the score, the 40-year-old Jeev was happy with his fitness.
"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. 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."
Randhawa, a former Asian Tour number one in 2002, reaped the benefits of a new putter where he made 27 putts.
Ghei, who last won on the Asian Tour in 2007, had a sensational start, with three birdies and an eagle in first four holes to go five-under after four. He added another birdie on ninth to turn in six-under. But he gave up two shots on the back nine with bogeys on 11th and 18th.
"I`ve been struggling with my game, it comes and goes and luckily, it stayed today. I didn`t take many chances. Played percentage golf and that paid off. I didn`t really hit drivers on par fives, I just laid up and made birdies from there. It took the pressure me off trying to make birdies. I kept plugging on," Randhawa, eight-time winner on Asian tour, said.
"It`s been a while since I putted like this. I really liked the way I putted. I`m happy with how I putted. Last two weeks, I`ve been on the green putting and trying to get my feel back," he added.