Yangon, February 12: Korea’s Mo Joong-kyung emerged as the surprise leader when he fired a five-under-par 67 in the opening round of the US$200,000 Myanmar Open at Yangon Golf Club today.
The 32-year-old Mo, who finished 74th on the money ranking in Asia last season, enjoyed a superb start in his first tournament of the year with six birdies and a lone bogey and leads by one shot over Canadian veteran Rick Gibson, South Africa’s Craig Kamps and Australian rookie Alistair Presnell.
Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, Asia’s number one in 2001, and Prayad Marksaeng carded identical 69s for equal fifth place alongside Taiwan’s Lin Wen-ko, Akinori Tani of Japan and American duo Andrew Pitts and Gary Rusnak.
Mo was destined for the big stage after winning the Guam Open in 1996 and finishing second behind Tiger Woods in the 1997 Asian Honda Classic in Thailand. But in recent years, family life has prompted him to play mainly on the Korean circuit where he has won twice.
“I’m quite surprised to be in the lead as I was expecting someone to shoot six or seven-under par this afternoon as conditions were ideal,” said the Korean. “The birdies just came my way and most of them were from inside 10 feet.
“Before coming to Yangon, I was practising in Thailand for 10 days and I worked hard at my short game. It looks like I’ve been doing the right stuff. I’ve not really played much outside of Korea in recent years but it’s always my intention to win,” added Mo.
His longest birdie effort was at the par three eighth when a 25-foot putt disappeared into the cup. Mo was disappointed though to drop his lone bogey at the par three fourth when his tee shot hit the pin and bounced well off the green. “I got ripped off there as it looked like a good shot,” said Mo.
Gibson, an old hand in Asia, was in inspired form playing alongside long-time rival Frankie Minoza, shooting a 68 against the Filipino’s 72. Gibson rolled in three birdies on the trot from the fourth hole, dropped a bogey on seven before finishing off strongly with birdies on 12 and 17.
A firm believer of the adage “courses for horses”, the 43-year-old Manila-based Gibson said he feels completely at home at the tree-lined Yangon layout despite suffering from a cold. “I like it out here. The course is tailored to my strength which requires good short and mid iron play. I played really solidly all day. It was also nice to play with Frankie as I’ve not done so for a long time.
“I remember beating Frankie for back-to-back victories in the Philippines PGA Championship in the early 1990s and he seems to bring the best from out of me,” said Gibson, whose last tournament success was the 2002 Philippine Open.
Kamps, runner-up here in 2000, rolled in 20-foot putts for birdies on his first two holes and kept up that hot start with a chip-in eagle at the par five sixth. He drained another 15-footer on nine to turn in 31.
But he disappointingly dropped his only bogey at the last hole, hitting a three wood tee shot through the fairway and into trees and then missing a five-foot par save attempt. “My target was to shoot a 68 but after getting to five-under at one stage, I’m quite disappointed with my score,” said Kamps, who finished tied fourth in the Thailand Open last month.
Thailand’s Prayad reaped the rewards for the hours spent at the practice green prior to the Myanmar Open. “I putted steadily. Last week, I worked on my putting from six feet and that has helped with my consistency. I’m a bit disappointed with two bogeys on par three holes. But all in all, I’ll take a 69,” said Prayad, runner-up at his home Open recently.
Compatriot Thongchai launched his bid for a second Myanmar Open title with a 69 and was satisfied to end the day two off the lead. “I was swinging the club nicely again. I played well to be three under on the front nine but lipped out on three occasions coming in. It’s still a nice position,” said Thongchai, winner here in 2002 and runner-up last season.
Local favourite Aung Win scored a magical hole-in-one en route to a 71 as he led the home challenge. Win, who has contended for the Myanmar Open title in the past two years, achieved the feat with an eight iron on his second hole of the day, the 162-yard 11th.
The ace sparked Win to make the turn in 32 but with high expectations from the gallery that followed his group, he doubled bogeyed the par five sixth hole and dropped another shot on the seventh.
“That was my career fifth ace in tournament play. It took one bounce and dropped into the hole,” said Win, who has finished tied third and equal sixth in the last two years.
Defending champion Lin Keng-chi of Taiwan was cruising at three-under through 14 but found water on two of his last four holes to drop four shots and settle for a 73. Veteran Boonchu Ruangkit, the in-form player after earning over US$100,000 in his last two events, struggled to a 75.
Leading first round scores
67 – Mo Joong-kyung (KOR)
68 – Rick Gibson (CAN), Craig Kamps (RSA), Alistair Presnell (AUS)
69 – Akinori Tani (JPN), Lin Wen-ko (TPE), Prayad Marksaeng (THA), Andrew Pitts (USA), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Gary Rusnak (USA)
70 – Rahil Gangjee (IND), Ashok Kumar (IND), Unho Park (AUS)
71 – Lin Chie-hsiang (TPE), Thaworn Wiratchant (THA), Chen Yuan-chi (TPE), Yin Htwe (MYN), Yoshinobu Tsukada (JPN), Jason Knutzon (USA), Aung Win (MYN), Lee Sung-man (KOR), Charlie Wi (KOR), Kenichi Ryu (JPN), Htun Hlaing (MYN)
72 – Glenn Joyner (AUS), Anthony Summers (AUS), Chris Williams (RSA), Mike Cunning (USA), Anthony Kang (USA), Greg Hanrahan (USA), Frankie Minoza (PHI)
73: Lin Keng-chi (TPE), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND)
74: Chen Tze-chung (TPE), Zane Scotland (ENG)
75: Boonchu Ruangkit (THA), Dinesh Chand (FIJ)
About the Myanmar Open:
The Myanmar Open is celebrating its ninth year in 2004. Event sponsors include Rothmans of Pall Mall Myanmar Pte. Limited, co-sponsor Myanmar Airways International, Sedona Hotel Yangon, the official hotel of the Myanmar Open, Wilson, the official ball, and Grand Slam (Munsingwear), Inetol (Headwear Company), Canon (Accel International Co. Ltd.), Maruman (Kaung Myat Co. Ltd), Dagon Beer (Dagon Brewery Company Limited), MIMS LOGISTICS, Max Myanmar Co. Ltd., United Paints Group (UPG) and Alpine Purified Drinking Water (Loi Hein Co. Ltd.) as official suppliers.
For further information, please contact Chuah Choo Chiang at the Myanmar Open Media Centre at +951 636199.