Firoz, Bhullar best among Indians at Johor Bahru

October 30th, 2008 - 9:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Johor Bahru, (Malaysia), Oct 30(IANS) Seasoned Firoz Ali, whose one and only Asian Tour win came exactly 10 years ago in 1998 at the Indian Open, was the best Indian at the end of the first round of the Iskandar Johor Open golf championship Thursday. Firoz, who last year won a local event in Malaysia, shot a two-under 70 to be tied 13th alongside young Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is trying hard to seal his Asian Tour card for 2009.

Rahil Gangjee, keeping one eye on the 2009 card, shot one-under 71 to be tied 21st, while Gaurav Ghei and Arjun Singh carded even par 72 each and were tied 41st. Harmeet Kahlon and Baaz Mann brought in two-over 74 each and were tied 80th and Anirban Lahiri, the best Indian at last week’s Macau Open carded 75 to be 92nd. Himmat Rai struggled with a 76 and was 105th and like Kahlon, Mann and Lahiri will be hard-pressed to make the cut.

Welshman Craig Smith fired a sparkling seven-under-par 65 to lead but title holder Artemio Murakami of the Philippines was snapping at his heels.

Smith, who stands at a towering six feet eight inches tall, produced seven birdies at Royal Johor Country Club to enjoy a rare view from atop the leaderboard at the US$500,000 Asian Tour event.

Murakami enjoyed a strong start to his defence, mixing six birdies against a lone bogey for a 67 to trail by two and was matched by New Zealand’s Mahal Pearce and Australian duo Rick Kulacz, the recent Brunei Open champion, and Mitchell Brown.

Sweden’s Niclas Fasth, a former Ryder Cup player, launched his campaign with a bogey-free 68 for tied sixth place alongside Australian Kane Webber while South African star Retief Goosen carded a 72 in what is the second Iskandar Johor Open.

Smith, 28, is reputed to be the tallest player on any international Tour, but his form hasn’t been as lofty as his soaring presence where he is presently languishing in 143rd place on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.

It was a welcome return to form for the Welshman as he missed the cut in eight of 11 tournaments this season, including his last four events. With the year coming to a close, Smith realises he needs to start piling up the winnings to avoid a return trip to Qualifying School.

Fasth, who has remodelled his swing under Dennis Pugh this year, showed the kind of form that made him a world’s top-20 player at the end of last season with a four-birdie round to lie within striking reach of the leader.

Local amateur Haziq Hamizan and Iain Steel were the best Malaysian performers with 70s. Last year’s runner-up Antonio Lascuna of the Philippines, Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant and Panuwat Muenlek and Australian duo Scott Barr and Richard Moir all carded 69s.

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