Luiten leads storm-hit Johor Open

Dutchman Joost Luiten has shot a sparkling 8-under 63 to grab the day’s lead in storm-hit Johar.

Joost Luiten of the Netherlands retained his rich vein of form when he shot a sparkling 8-under 63 to grab the lead at the Iskandar Johor Open before Thursday’s first round was called off for the day.

Luiten, who finished in a tie for fifth in Singapore last week, birdied the last hole at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club to take a one shot lead over title holder and three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Australian Marcus Fraser, who finished second on last year’s Asian Tour Order of Merit and Frenchman Gregory Bourdy .

Charlie Wi of Korea, a seven-time winner in the region, led the Asian charge with a 66 to share fifth place with James Morrison of England and Nicolas Meitinger of Germany at the US$2 million event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

The first round was called off for the day an hour after lightning stopped play at 4.22pm. No players from the afternoon session finished their round, meaning 78 players will return at 7.20 am on Friday to resume play.

Of these Sweden’s Daniel Chopra, who was at -5 after 14 holes Myanmar’s Zaw Moe, also at 5-under, but after 13 holes, were the men with the best chance of catching the Swedish front runner.

Luiten, who started on the 10th tee, peppered the flags with accurate approach shots and was rewarded with four straight birdies starting from the 15th hole.

“That really got me going, he told the media afterwards.

“Most of the putts were from only around three metres, so I was putting it pretty close. My longest putt was on my last hole, from around five metres. So that was a great way to finish,” said Luiten, who is seeking his first European Tour title after a good few close misses..

“I played really well in Singapore, which gave me a lot of confidence to carry into this week. I’ve been putting very well lately. I made some nice putts, and hopefully that can continue in the next few days,” he 25-year-old added.

Harrington, who also teed off the 10th, ignited his title defence with a superb 40-foot chip-in eagle on the 13th hole before adding six more birdies against just one bogey.

“That was the kick-start I needed. I’d given myself a few chances early on, but didn’t hole the putts. So in the back of your mind you start to think that it might be one of those rounds which gets away from you, even though I’d struck the ball quite nicely.

“But then when I holed that chip, I started thinking that it might yet go my way after all.

“I left a few shots out there, but I’m still very happy with the score. I’m a bit surprised the scoring in general isn’t a little lower than it is.

“In our group, we must’ve made at least 25 birdies between us, and in some ways we fed off each other,” said Harrington, who played with Wi and Lu Wei-chih of Chinese Taipei.

Fraser, winner of the 2010 Ballantine’s Championship in Korea, renewed his love affair with Asian golf in a flawless round highlighted by an eagle three on the 18th hole which he sank from 15 feet.

It has been a bittersweet season for Fraser who went underwent neck surgery earlier in the year and welcomed a baby girl (Lily) to his family in July.

“It feels like I’m playing to about 80 or 90% of my potential. My injury is something that I have to monitor but it feels pretty good at the moment.

“Normally I would play about 20 or 25 tournaments by this time of the year, but I welcomed my second child in the middle of the year and that has been pretty exciting,” said Fraser.

Wi, a regular on the PGA Tour, birdied the opening hole before dropping two shots in the next two holes. He recovered with four straight birdies from the 13th hole but the highlight came when he holed out from the green side bunker on the second hole from 15 yards.

“I was very lucky with that!” said then Korean.

“It was a very tough hole. When I had those two bogeys I was like, ‘Oh boy, I hope I don’t let this round get away.’ But I was able to make some birdies and I was pretty pleased with them,” Wi added..

63 – Joost Luiten (Ned).
64 – Padraig Harrington (Irl), Marcus Fraser (Aus), Gregory Bourdy (Fra).
66 – Charlie Wi (Kor), James Morrison (Eng), Nicolas Meitinger (Ger).
67 – Lu Wei-Chih (Tpe), Jose Manuel Lara (Esp), Henrik Stenson (Swe).