Local hero Danny Chia soared on eagle’s wings to race into a three-shot halfway lead at the US$2 million Maybank Malaysian Open yesterday.
The 36-year-old, who is hoping to become the first Malaysian to win the event, conquered the Saujana Golf and Country Club’s Palm course by firing two spectacular eagles on his inward nine en route to a seven-under-par 65.
Chia’s two-day total of 13-under-par 131 was well clear of Sweden’s Alexander Noren who carded a 71, while overnight leader Noh Seung-yul of South Korea, who opened with a 62, struggled to a 73 to lie four back in third place.
A topsy-turvy 71 left Chinese star Liang Wen-chong well positioned in a share of fourth place alongside Australian Adam Blyth and English pair Nick Dougherty and Simon Griffiths on 136.
World No. 11 Anthony Kim of the US produced a flawless 65 to make the halfway cut right on the 143 mark, a day after opening with a disastrous 78.
But the limelight truly belonged to Chia. Four other birdies against a lone bogey in the co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour event gave him a sense of deja vu after being the joint second round leader at last year’s event.
“I played really good. I am very happy,” said Chia, whose lone Tour victory dates back to the 2002 Taiwan Open. “I kept telling myself to be calm out there. My biggest fear is to not get too emotional.”
He delighted his army of fans with two sensational strikes. He produced a monster drive at the par four fourth 303-yard hole that landed a foot off the flag and then holed out a wedge from 90 yards at the par five seventh hole on his inward nine.
“The wedge shot was probably my best this year. That was nice,” said Chia, who tossed his club into the air after the ball disappeared into the ground.
No Malaysian has won the event in its 48-year history and Chia harbors dreams of becoming the first player to do so.
“I am going to be nervous and I would be lying if I told you otherwise. I’ll be taking a few deep breaths and walking a bit slower in between shots,” he said.
Noren, chasing his first career victory, felt he left a few shots out on the course.
“I probably hit the ball better than I did yesterday,” said the Swede. “[But] I putted as badly today as I did well yesterday. You can’t have 22 putts one day and then 36 the next.”
Noh, playing with Noren, also endured a frustrating day on the greens to slip out of the lead.
“I didn’t putt very well. I missed a few chances but my troubles were mainly due to my poor tee shots,” he said.
“I was hitting it left and right with the driver and three wood and found myself under the trees quite often. You can’t find the flags from there,” said the 17-year-old, last season’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year.
A total of 74 players qualified for the weekend rounds after the cut was made at 143.
Lu Wei-chih was the only Taiwanese player to do so after rounds of 72 and 71.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER