Cutting out some “slack stuff” was the key as Marc Warren equalled both the lowest round of his European Tour career and the best this season on the circuit to open up a two-shot lead after the first day of the Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
The 35-year-old mixed 11 birdies with a triple-bogey, three double-bogeys and seven bogeys as he missed the cut by four shots despite being in the favourable half of the draw in last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic. It was much more like it, though, as he didn’t put a foot wrong in carding a nine-under-par 63 at Saujana Golf and Country Club to set a blistering pace in the £2.4 million event in Kuala Lumpur.
“I have been making a lot of birdies but a lot of mistakes as well,” said Warren, who made the cut in both Abu Dhabi and Qatar before his early exit in Dubai. “Last week I made 11 birdies in two days but missed the cut, so it’s just a matter of trying to keep the positive stuff going, making the birdies and cutting out the slack stuff, which I managed today.”
The effort, which matched his opening round in the Portugal Masters last October, was a ten-shot improvement on his first-day score in this event 12 months ago, when he missed the cut.
Out in the third group of the day, Warren took full advantage of the favourable early conditions, getting off to a fast start with birdies at the first, third, fourth and sixth holes before moving up a gear with an eagle at the 534-yard par-5 eighth. The three-time European Tour winner then knocked his tee-shot on the par-3 12th to 15 feet before adding further birdies at the 14th and 17th to round off a superb morning’s work as he matched the 63s carded by both Graeme Storm and Edoardo Molinari in last month’s SA Open.
“It was a good tee time, nice and early before the wind picks up,” said the East Kilbride man. “Once it did on the back nine, it was just a case of staying solid and hitting the greens. My iron play was very good today and it was nice to get around without a bogey. More of the same tomorrow would be nice.”
Warren’s nearest challenger is Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai while Masters champion Danny Willett is among six players a shot further back after his first bogey-free effort since last May. “It is a tough golf course, especially with the wind and the heat and everything else, and grainy greens, too,” said Warren. “If you shoot a score of nine under, you’re putting really well, so I’ll take a lot of confidence from today and move on to tomorrow.”
Khongwatmai, the youngest winner of a professional tournament when he claimed the Singha Hua Hin Open on the ASEAN PGA Tour at the age of just 14 in 2013, qualified for the Open for the second year running by finishing second in Singapore recently. “I’m very happy,” he said after his latest impressive effort, which contained eight birdies and a solitary bogey. “I didn’t think I could shoot seven under. This course is a tough course. One or two under would be good and, if I can make the cut, I’ll be happy.”
While Willett has had little to be happy about since his victory at Augusta National last April, the Yorkshireman could finally be starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. “Around a golf course like this you need to be in the fairways to be able to get close to these flags and I rolled in a couple of putts,” he said. “It was relatively stress free for six under, which is always nice.”
As former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel recorded a 71 on his return to action following a knee injury, David Drysdale opened with a 72 to sit in a tie for 67th, just ahead of Richie Ramsay after his 73.