Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rookie pro Lloyd Saltman from Craigielaw did not have the brightest of starts in the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Tournament today.
One of a field of 184 players chasing 40 players' cards for the 2008 Asian Tour, Lloyd, pictured right, had an uninspired round of one-over-par 73 at the Sabah Golf Club. That left him in joint 105th place overall.
Brother Elliot, who had to come through the Stage 1 eliminator last week, did better with a two-under-par 70 at Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club for an overall share of 43rd position.
Kota Kinabalu, December 12:
Malaysia’s hotshot Ben Leong lived up to his billing as one of the favourites to top this week’s Asian Tour Qualifying School Finals when he fired an impressive nine-under par 63 to earn sole possession of the opening round lead on Wednesday.
Leong, who topped the field at last year’s Final Stage qualifier in Thailand, was in unstoppable form at the Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club, sinking seven birdies and an eagle to open up a one-stroke lead over closest rival, Rick Kulacz of Australia, who is bidding for his maiden appearance on the Asian Tour next season.
Japan’s Mitsuhiro Tateyama carded a 65 at the Sabah Golf and Country Club to take third place while England’s Yasin Ali and Craig Smith of Wales shot matching 66s to claim joint fourth place. Australia’s Mitchell Brown, Mark Mouland of Wales, Japan’s Norio Shinozaki and South African Nico Van Rensburg were bunched together in tied sixth place after posting matching 67s.
The Asian spotlight on the opening day shone on Leong, who got off to a blistering start when he fired off two birdies and an eagle in his opening back nine and continued to reel in another three more birdies in the 15th, 16th and 18th holes before turning in 29.
“I got off to a really good start today. Everything really went well for me today especially my driving and my putting. I’ve been struggling with my putting the whole year and I’m really happy that my putting has not let me down today,” said Leong.
Australia’s Kulacz, who only turned pro about two months ago, also raced into contention for an Asian Tour card, when he recorded a 64 that included six birdies and an eagle.
The 21-year-old who is currently residing in Perth, Western Australia, is hoping that his rich vein of form will now help him secure his full playing rights on the Asian Tour next year.
“I was pretty relaxed today. I hit it really well off the tees today. I hit it as hard as I could and it gave me heaps of chances, especially at the sixth and seventh holes,” said Kulacz.
Japan’s Tateyama, whose last attempt to play on the Asian Tour was way back in 1997, also edged himself closer to his target of earning his tour card for next season with a 65.
“My putting was the key today and thankfully it was preferred lie which helped a lot as it was soggy out there,” said Tateyama, who had to rely on the strength of his short game to put himself into a strong contention for one of the 40 Asian Tour cards at stake.
“I am good friends with Jeev (Milkha Singh) and he told me that the Asian Tour is really good. Compared to how it was 10 years ago, the Asian Tour is much bigger, the quality of the game has improved tremendously and I really want to be part of it,” added Tateyama.
It was a welcome boost for fourth-placed Ali after the Englishman had narrowly missed out on a top-60 finish on the Asian Tour UBS Order of Merit with his final 68th place and had to endure a frustrating season plagued with injuries.
“My right elbow has affected my game the entire season this year and it has not been getting better. But I’ve been getting the breaks I’ve needed recently, including today, which helped me produce a good score,” said Ali who posted a 66 to stay within touching distance of the leaders.
Six-time Japan Golf Tour winner, Hur Suk-ho of Korea carded a 71 in tied 69th spot while former Ryder Cup player and 1999 Open runner-up to Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie, Jean Van de Velde, posted an even-par 72 in joint 89th place.
“The Asian Tour is growing and has some really big events. If I qualify this week, I hope to focus my game on the Asian Tour in the early part of the year and then balance my game between the Asian Tour and Japan,” said Hur.
Van de Velde was pleased with his even-par performance as he hopes to improve on his position in the second round.
“An even par round is not too bad so I’m happy with the result. I still need to adapt to the greens over here but I hope to capitalise on my opportunities and improve my score when I tee off tomorrow,” said Van de Velde.
Par 72 at both venues (Sutera Harbour G&CC & Sabah G&CC).
63 Ben Leong (Malaysia).
64 Rick Kulacz (Australia).
65 Mitsuhiro Tateyama (Japan).
66 Yasin Ali (England), Craig Smith (Wales0.
67 Mitchell Brown (Australia), Nico Van Rensburg (South Africa), Norio Shinozaki (Japan), Mark Mouland (Wales).
Other scores:
68 Rhys Davies (Wales), Simon Dunn (Scotland) (jt 10th).
70 Elliot Saltman (Scotland, Michael Hoey (Ireland) (jt 43rd).
72 Jean Van de Velde (France) (jt 89th).
73 Ross Bain (Scotland), Lloyd Saltman (Scotland) (jt 105th).
(Total field 184 players)



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