Kuala Lumpur, March 30: Former downhill skier Simon Yates jumped onto the fast lane at the International Final Qualifying – Asia today, shooting a six-under-par 66 to take a big stride towards the British Open.
The Thai-based Scotsman, currently seventh on the Asian Tour money ranking, survived steamy playing conditions at Saujana Golf and Country Club and shot seven birdies to end the day one stroke ahead of Japan’s Sushi Ishigaki and Australian Scott Barr.
A further stroke back was India’s Harmeet Kahlon, who returned a 68 while Japan’s Yoshinobu Tsukada carded a 69 to remain in contention for a British Open berth.
The top four finishers in the 36-hole qualifiers on Wednesday will earn prize tickets to the British Open, which will be staged at Royal Troon in Scotland from July 15-18.
Yates, bidding for a maiden appearance in a Major, moved to Asia in the mid-1990s to escape the cold climate in his native Scotland and has enjoyed considerable success in he region. He skipped last week’s Royal Challenge Indian Open to work on his game and the move paid off with a near blemish-free round.
“I worked on a swing thought which was to release the club properly through the ball and I hit it real sweet today. I just missed one green and had several other chances for birdies.
“It felt like a sauna out there, so you have to take it as it comes. I played with Craig (Kamps) who was four under on the front but he ended with a 76. This can happen over here,” said Yates, who represented Scotland in skiing during his youth.
The 34-year-old Yates played a practice round at Royal Troon last October after featuring in the dunhill links championship on the European Tour where he finished tied 12. He believes another under-par card tomorrow will earn him a spot alongside the world’s best golfers at the British Open.
“I knew the Open was going to be played at Troon, so I took the opportunity to have a practice round there last year. It is a really difficult course. However, I’m not going to think of a return trip there yet,” said Yates.
Just last year, Barr was clocking 10-hour days as a club professional in Singapore before he received a start in the Macau Open. Barr finished second in the Asian Tour event, losing to Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie in a play-off and gained his playing rights in the region.
“I saw the entry criteria for the British Open which said players needed world ranking points and that was when I decided it was time for me to head out and play some golf,” said Barr, who stopped playing full-time on the Australasian Tour in 1999 following a water skiing injury.
“I’m very happy to shoot 67 as this is a tough course. I struck it well and stayed patient which is what you need to do in a 36-hole event. I need to take my chances again tomorrow but there is still a long way to go. A lot of good players are out there.”
India’s Kahlon was solid from tee to green, shooting five birdies against a lone bogey. “I’m happy with that. I just need to play like that again tomorrow to have a chance. Hosting the qualifying event over here is a great opportunity for Asian players. As kids, we have dreams (of playing in the Majors) but now, you always just want to play well,” he said.
Singapore’s Mardan Mamat, last week’s winner of the Royal Challenge Indian Open, turned at two-over but salvaged his round, signing for a even par 72. “I made some mistakes on the eighth and ninth but it was good to come back for an even par start.
“I’ll have to aim for a low number tomorrow and try to be aggressive when there is an opportunity. The greens here are tricky and I’ll take it one shot at a time,” said Mardan.
First round scores
66: Simon Yates (SCO)
67: Scott Barr (AUS), Sushi Ishigaki (JPN)
68: Harmeet Kahlon (IND)
69: Yoshinobu Tsukada (JPN)
70: Kim Felton (AUS)
71: Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Anthony Kang (USA), Terry Pilkadaris (AUS), Amandeep Johl (IND), Jyoti Randhawa (IND)
72: Mardan Mamat (SIN), Yeh Wei-tze (TPE), Mike Cunning (USA), Thammanoon Srirot (THA), Unho Park (AUS), David Gleeson (AUS)
73: Jason Knutzon (USA), Lu Wei-lan (TPE), Pablo Del Olmo (MEX), Boonchu Ruangkit (THA), Lin Chie-hsiang (TPE), Greg Hanrahan (USA)
74: Alistair Presnell (AUS), Marcus Both (AUS)
75: Hong Chia-yuh (TPE)
76: Chang Tse-peng (TPE), Clay Devers (USA), Danny Chia (MAS), Craig Kamps (RSA), Charlie Wi (KOR)
77: Edward Loar (USA)
78: Soushi Tajima (JPN), Stephen Lindskog (SWE)
80: Lin Wen-ko (TPE), Andrew Pitts (USA)