Kuala Lumpur: Ben Leong fired an impressive four-under-par 68 to open up a commanding five-shot lead from Danny Chia after the second round of the SapuraKencana National Qualifier at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on Tuesday.
Leong, who has one win on the Asian Tour, sank seven birdies against three bogeys for a two-day total of five-under-par 139 to put himself in prime position to win the RM22,000 champion’s cheque and also a prized spot in the US$7 million CIMB Classic in October.
Veteran Chia battled to a 73 to trail in second place as his hopes for a fourth appearance in the CIMB Classic, which is sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and Asian Tour, also took a dent when he suffered a neck muscle strain midway through his round.
Nicholas Fung, Khor Kheng Hwai, Kenneth De Silva, Shaifubari Muda, S. Sivachandhran, C.M. Chong and Wilson Choo share third position on 147, some eight shots back of Leong.
“I played pretty well although I made some silly mistakes with some chips and made two bogeys. But then again, I made a 60-footer for birdie on 17 which pretty much adds everything up. I’m happy and I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said the 29-year-old Leong.
“To tee it up on the PGA TOUR has been a goal ever since I was a kid. It would mean a lot if I can make it tomorrow.”
Leong has finished runner-up twice on the local circuit over the past two weeks and revealed that keeping his swing thoughts “simple” has been the key to his good run at the SapuraKencana National Qualifier.
“I’ve been taking it one shot and one day at a time. I just have simple goals … keep it on the fairway, and if I have 130 yards to the pin, I’ll be looking at getting it to 12 to 15 feet. It’s just been focussing on my personal goals and it’s been working out.
“Golfers always try to look for certain ways to improve and it can be poisonous if you keep searching instead of focussing on scoring. I’ve been through it, trying to look for the perfect putting stroke or swing. I guess I have matured,” said Leong, whose lone Asian Tour title was in 2008.
Chia, who won the SapuraKencana National Qualifier last year, was cruising on one-under for his round before hurting his neck on the second hole, his 11th of the day. He went on to bogey the fourth, fifth and ninth holes with one more birdie on seven.
“It was going quite well but on two, I pulled a muscle in my neck on the drive and I couldn’t turn my shoulder fully after that. I’m still happy to have kept it to one over for the round. I had had some stiffness in the neck and thought it was getting better. I’m going to get some treatment and hope it gets better tomorrow for me to try to put some pressure on Ben,” said the 42-year-old Chia.
Fung endured a roller-coaster round with three birdies, three bogeys and one double bogey as his hopes of earning a third appearance at the CIMB Classic took a blow following a disappointing 74.
“I played even par on my front nine but then shanked my second shot on the first (his 10th hole). I can’t remember when I last did something like that and it affected my confidence with my iron play. I’m a few shots back but I’ll try to go low and play aggressive tomorrow as I have nothing to lose,” said Fung.
Khor shot a 70, which was the second best score of the day, but reckons he needs something in the mid-60s to have any chance of redeeming himself in the SapuraKencana National Qualifier after losing to Chia in a play-off last year.
“I hit it good but didn’t make enough putts. Probably missed four chances from 10 feet. I need it to be hot tomorrow. I had a closing 65 in Taiping (in a local tour event) last week and would probably need something like that again to have a chance,” said Khor.
The CIMB Classic, to be held from October 29 to November 1, will be the third event of the 2015 - 2016 FedExCup Season on the PGA TOUR. Offering full FedExCup points, the CIMB Classic will feature 78 players - 60 from the PGA TOUR, 10 from the Asian Tour and eight sponsor’s exemptions.
Out of the eight sponsor’s exemptions, CIMB Classic accords two spots for Malaysians. The second spot will be given to the highest ranked Malaysian golfer on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as at September 30. If the winner of the SapuraKencana National Qualifier is also the leading Malaysian in the OWGR, the second spot will automatically go to the next best-ranked Malaysian on the OWGR.