Johor, Malaysia: Benjamin Yap Jian Xian surprised himself by upstaging a strong field to post the most notable victory of his fledgling career in the 12th edition of the Faldo Series Malaysia Championship.
One shot off the pace in equal second place after two rounds in the 13th leg of the 2017-18 Faldo Series Asia season, Yap held his nerve on a tense final day over the Allamanda Course at the Palm Resort Golf & Country Club in the southernmost Malaysian State of Johor.
Thanks to a closing one-over-par 73, the Malaysian four-handicapper who studies at the Tanglin Trust School in neighbouring Singapore, topped the standings in both the Boys’ Under-16 category and overall.
With a 54-hole aggregate of three-over 219, Yap ended five strokes clear of Umar Khushairi Mohamad Kamal, who had the consolation of taking top spot in the Boys’ Under-21 segment.
As such, he will join Yap and girls’ age group winners Qistina Balqis Azhar and Liyana Durisic as Malaysia’s representatives in the 12th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final, to be hosted by Sir Nick Faldo at Laguna Lăng Cô in Danang, Central Vietnam, in March, 2018.
“I’m excited to win this championship and even more surprised to have topped a really strong, elite field,” said 16-year-old Yap, who is coached by Skye Neal at Sentosa Golf Club’s academy.
Pre-tournament favourites Zubair Firdaus and Rhaasrikanesh Kanavathi both signed off with 76s to finish second and third respectively behind Yap in the Boys’ Under-16 age group.
National junior team representative Kanavathi was always behind the eight-ball after running up a triple-bogey seven at the opening hole on day one en route to a disastrous outward 43. To his credit, Kanavathi, a contender for a spot in his country’s team for next year’s Asian Games, regained his composure to come back in 35. But the damage had been done.
Meanwhile, Firdaus paid the price for a stuttering start to his final round, dropping four strokes over the first three holes. Although Firdaus, who is studying and training at Brisbane’s Hills International College in Australia, covered the remaining 15 holes in even-par, he had left himself too much ground to make up.
For his part, Yap came racing out of the blocks with birdies at the first and third and reached the turn in even-par. There was a brief stumble with a bogey at 10 and his only double-bogey of the week at the short 12th. But birdies at three of the next four holes enabled him to ease clear.
Reflecting on his performance, Yap said: “I managed to shoot a good number in the second round to move into the contending bunch. I was a little nervous going into the final round and it proved real tough with the winds picking up and greens rolling faster. I knew if I shot around even-par I’d have a good chance of winning. I managed to grind out a 73 and that did the trick.”
In contrast, Ahmad Hafiz Selamat and Dragon Chai Cheng Teck were left to ponder what might have been.
Hafiz held the overall lead after two rounds on 145 but could only manage an error-strewn closing 81 which included two double-bogeys and saw him fall to fourth among the Boys’ Under-16s and seventh overall.
Joint second overnight with Yap on 146, Chai saw his hopes of victory evaporate on the back nine for which he needed 44 strokes as the steady Khushairi overhauled him and Abdul Razak Abdul Rawof in the Boys’ Under-21 segment.
Full of confidence in the wake of her triumph in last month’s Albatross International Junior Championship in Delhi, Durisic showed commendable calm to recover from a triple-bogey eight at the third hole by coming back in two-under 34 to clinch the Girls’ Under-16 title.
In the elder category for girls, Azhar outlasted Nurdiyana Aqilah Khalim and could even afford the luxury of a double-bogey at the 18th.
The 2017-18 Faldo Series Asia season is supported by The R&A and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. The International Junior Golf Academy is a partner of the Faldo Series.
As well as two events in China, India and Thailand, championships are staged in Australia, Bangladesh, Chinese-Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
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