Ricky Barnstorms CIMB Classic

Ricky Barnes has rekindled his love affair with Malasia at the US PGA Tour’s first event in Southeast Asia.

American Ricky Barnes seems to have rekindled his love-affair with Malaysia by securing the first round lead with a barnstorming eight-under-par 63 in the inaugural US$6 million CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysia on Thursday.

The 29-year-old, who won the Amateur World Team championship for the Eisenhower Trophy with the United States team here in 2002, produced a faultless, “stress free” round sprinkled with eight birdies, four of them on the last four holes at The Mines Resort and Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.

He leads by a shot from fellow US young gun Ryan Moore, who shot a bogey-free 64 in ideal scoring conditions to lie one back while Korea’s Charlie Wi, a seven-time Asian Tour winner and a regular now on the PGA Tour, shared third place with England’s Brian Davis and Sweden’s Carl Pettersson with identical 65s.

The Thai duo of Pariya Junhasavasdikul and reigning Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee shot 66s, as did Singapore’s veteran Mardan Mamat, who enjoyed two eagles over the closing four holes.

The two highest ranked stars in the limited 40-man field, world number eight Luke Donald of England and 11th ranked Ernie Els of South Africa, hit 67s in the first ever ever co-sanctioned by the Asian and US PGA Tours.

Barnes, searching for his first professional victory, comfortably hit 17 greens in regulation and wielded a hot putter.

He said: “I made it a very stress free round on myself by putting from about 20 or 25 feet. It seemed like my putts were all from that region.”

After a stellar amateur career where he also won the US Amateur Championship, Barnes took a while to make an impression in the play-for-pay ranks and only came to prominence when he contended at the 2009 US Open before finishing tied second.

He also finished equal 10th at the Masters Tournament in April, although it is a first victory that he desires the most.

“I played really well. I got off to a good start by making some good swings and had a 10 foot look at eagle on three which kind of got my round started,” said Barnes.

“I remember the heat from Malaysia! I had to fuel up before going out there and it felt good. I felt kind of hot after about nine holes but I was prepared with the weather. I have good memories in Malaysia and it is really good to be back.”

Moore, 27, arrived in Malaysia last Friday to acclimatize to the time change and weather conditions and sizzled with seven birdies. He has earned over US$2 million this season on the PGA Tour but is winless.

“For me, this is my last chance to get a win and finish off the year the way I want to,” said Moore, a former US Amateur Champion.

“It was a good season. I feel like it was better than last year and last year I had a win. That’s what I’m coming here for. It’s my last tournament of the year.

“The greens rolled good and you can give yourself good birdie chances. It gives you a chance to make 20, 25 footers.”

US-based Wi, who has won twice in Malaysia previously, birdied his closing two holes to stay close to the leader. “We got three more rounds to go and I really enjoyed the course.

“If you want to win a tournament, you have to be as close to the lead as possible,” said Wi, who is chasing a first PGA Tour victory.

Davis does not want to simply be remembered as the honest guy who called a two-stroke penalty on himself during a play-off defeat to Jim Furyk in the Verizon Heritage in April and hopes to come out on top at the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysi.

“It changed my life really. It’s not often a loss changes your life but it did,” said Davis, who took advantage of being in the first match out to shoot six birdies.

“It’s been a weird year. I’ve had a couple of close calls but haven’t really played up to my standard. This game is funny. You can all of the sudden win one and have a great year.”

Pariya, who secured his maiden Asian Tour victory earlier this month, soared high to feature on the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic, Malaysia leaderboard.

“My irons were razor sharp. It went exactly where I wanted to go,” said the Thai, a graduate from the Purdue University and also a licenced pilot.

Although there is a US$1 million top prize on offer, the 26-year-old is not letting it distract his focus.

“I set my goal this week for an experience and that’s what I got. I’ll let my skill do the talking. These guys are my idols. I’m not going to compete with them. I’ll just play my golf and get my experience in,” the Thai .