Westwood’s best finish this season is a share of seventh place in the Masters last week, while Colsaerts has not recorded a single top-15 finish on the PGA Tour in 2014. However, both players made light of the long journey from the United States to Kuala Lumpur, Westwood taking the clubhouse lead with a seven-under-par 65 and Colsaerts just a shot behind. A delay of just over 75 minutes in the afternoon due to the threat of lightning meant the first round was not completed on schedule, with play set to resume at 7.40am local time today.
“I played well in Houston the week before the Masters and used that momentum going into the Masters,” said Westwood, who was just three shots off the lead going into the final round at Augusta National before his chances effectively disappeared with a bogey on the third and double bogey on the fourth. “I played well last week in finishing seventh and I was happy to carry that on today. I’m pleased to get off to a good start. It’s nice to have a good one and build some momentum for the week.”
Starting from the tenth, Westwood’s round got off to a slow start with a bogey on the 539-yard par-5, but that would be his only dropped shot of the day. Birdies on the 12th, 14th and 16th took the former world No 1 to the turn in 34 and a front nine of 31, including birdies at four of his last five holes, took Westwood to the top of the leaderboard. “I didn’t make the best of starts but fortunately that didn’t set the tone for the day,” added Westwood, who won the Malaysian Open in 1997 before it became co-sanctioned with the European Tour and Asian Tour and has recorded 12 of his 40 worldwide victories in Asia.
“I hit it really well and hit it close a lot. I had to be patient because I was hitting good putts and they weren’t going in. I holed one from about eight feet on my 16th, 25 feet on the second-last hole and a nice 15-footer with a bit of curl on the last. So it was a good round of golf in tricky conditions.”
Colsaerts made an instant impact on his Ryder Cup debut in 2012, firing eight birdies and an eagle to carry Westwood to victory over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the opening day fourballs at Medinah. But the big-hitting Belgian has struggled for form since, failing to record a top-three finish on the European Tour last year and falling to 131st in the world rankings.
“I’ve waited for a round like this since 1 January,” Colsaerts said after eight birdies and two bogeys in his 66. “I just kept my momentum going and made a few bounce-backs. I parred the two par fives on the front which is a bit disappointing, but I kept very patient and that in the end was what made a difference.”
Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey was two shots off the lead after a five-under 67 matched by Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, while Scott Jamieson was four under par with two holes of his round remaining. Defending champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat returned a one-under-par 71, one shot better than former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
Craig Lee bogeyed his last two holes as he finished on three-under, the same score Marc Warren was sitting on with six holes to play. Former winner Alastair Forsyth got finished but signed for a two-over 74.