Malaysian Nicholas Fung sizzled in the privacy of an early morning start and brandished a hot putter all day, firing a six-under 66 and snaring a one stroke lead over Thai Poom Saksansin and Hung Chien-yao of Chinese Taipei at the start of the $1 million Resorts World Manila Masters at the Manila Southwoods’ Masters course in Carmona, Cavite on Thursday.
Enjoying top form coming off a runner-up finish in last week’s World Classic Championship won by Thai Danthai Boonma in Singapore, Fung took advantage of benign condition in one of the early flights and rattled off seven birdies to negate a lone bogey mishap and complete a pair of 33s spiked by five scrambling pars.
“My game is feeling good. I left a couple of shots out there but it’s okay. I am feeling very confident,” said the 25-year-old Fung, who used his putter just 23 times.
But a slew of others stood just a stroke, two or three behind, ensuring a wild scramble in the next three days where condition is expected to get tougher especially if the wind come into play in the weekend chase for the top $180,000 purse in the country’s richest tournament hosted by Manila Southwoods.
Teeing off the backside of the hazard-laden layout, Saksansin, 22, gunned down six birdies against a bogey on No. 7 as he matched Hung’s five-under 67 that featured eight birdies, including five in a seven-hole stretch from No. 10, against three bogeys.
With majority of the country’s aces drawing late tee-times, Orlan Sumcad took the cudgels for the local bets with a four-under 68 for joint fourth with Aussie Sam Brazel, Taiwan’s Lee Chieh-po, Thai Rattanon Wannasrichan, Korean Giwhan Kim, Spain’s Carlos Pigem and Japanese Akinori Tani while Rufino Bayron, a former Asian Development Tour winner, rammed in five birdies against two bogeys to lead the 69 scorers.
Sumcad battled strong winds in mid-morning with crisp but low booming drives, hitting all but three fairways then making just 24 putts on the Masters’ sleek putting surface.
“I think putting is the key to play well here. Other players are probably driving the ball as good but one really needs to have a sharp short game to be up there on the leaderboard,” said Sumcad.
Other three under par scorers are South Africa’s Bryce Easton, Thai Tirawat Kaewsiribandit, Aussie Scott Barr, Scot Simon Yates, American Chan Kim and Korean Giwhan Kim.
Miguel Tabuena, the reigning local circuit’s Order of Merit champion, missed joining the 69 group with a bogey on No. 17, dropping to a big 70 group that includes Tony Lascuna, Ireland’s Niall Kearney, Sri Lanka’s Mithun Perera, India’s SSP Chawrasia, England’s Steve Lewton, Paul Peterson of the US, Thais Chapchai Nirat and Chinnarat Phadungsil, Korean Charlie Wi, Aussie Terry Pilkadaris and Filipino Jhonnel Ababa.
“I really hit it solid off the tee but my putting was off,” rued Tabuena, who recovered from food poisoning just in time for the event.
Lascuña, the former three-time local circuit’s top player, nearly blew a solid 33 at the back with a shaky 37 windup, while Angelo Que rebounded from a bogey and double mishaps on Nos. 3 and 6, respectively, with six birdies against two more bogeys for a 71 while flightmate and defending champion Mardan Mamat fared even worse with four bogeys and a double bogey against a birdie after 10 holes, needing to birdie three of the last seven holes to save a 74.