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Lin, Kingston tied in the lead at Myanmar Open 2003

Travel News Asia 27 February 2003

South Africa's James Kingston and Chinese Taipei's Lin Keng-chi shot 5-under par 67s to share a narrow lead over a small group of players trailing them by only two shots in the opening round of the Asian PGA's Myanmar Open.

Local hero Aung Win and Asian PGA Tour newcomer Mukesh Kumar followed one stroke behind Kingston and Lin on the tough Yangon Golf Club course with 4-under par 68s.

Several other players followed by another stroke to tie for third with 3-under par 69s, including last year's Myanmar Open winner, Thongchai Jaidee from Thailand, American Aaron Meeks, Canada's Rick Gibson, Chung Joon of  Korea and Harmeet Kahlon of India.

Kingston, who won this event in 2000 with a still-standing tournament course record of 19-under, clearly enjoyed his return to the Yangon course. He started in the cool of the early morning and finished off hot on the back  nine where he netted four of his six birdies for the round.

"I won here two years ago and it is a good chance for me this year." said Kingston, at 37 one of the more experienced players in the field. "It is not easy to say 'winning' at this moment as there are three rounds to go."

Lin, now regular player on the Japanese tour, made a late afternoon run at Kingston's lead, finishing off strongly with five birdies on his final nine holes. Only a missed six-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, prevented him from topping the leader board.

"I am feeling pretty relaxed here, playing with old friends from the Asian PGA Tour," said Lin, who rates his own fitness highly as he prepares for the Dynasty Cup in two weeks' time. 

Kingston and Lin face a challenge holding off a strong field which includes six of the Asian PGA's top ten ranked players and a host of Myanmar players. Other local favorites Zaw Moe and Kyi Hla Han had a slower start than their younger countryman, Aung Win, with the veterans finishing at one over and two over par, respectively.

Kumar, a regular winner on the Indian Tour and a 4-time representative for his country in the World Cup, is confident he can continue to score well in  Yangon. His 68 capitalized on long drives, a consistent pitching game and a few shots which turned potential disaster into scoring opportunities.

On the par 5, 17th hole, a long dog-leg left, he followed up a solid drive with two bunker shots. Yet Kumar managed to get down with one putt for the birdie.

"This is my first tournament on the Asian PGA Tour," said Kumar, a winner of 10 out of 21 tournaments in India during 2002 and 2003. "My friends said I can play well and so do I."

The hot, dry weather on Thursday was familiar to the Asian PGA tour's Indian players, who encounter similar conditions on their home courses.

Well-struck drives gain a lot of extra distance on the sun-baked fairways on the Yangon Golf Club circuit, one of Asia's oldest courses. But that same bounce can wreak havoc with errant shots, bringing the course's many  stately teak trees and mirror-like lakes into play.

Thongchai Jaidee, who is defending his 2002 Myanmar Open title, echoed the sentiments of several players who found the course a stiff challenge, but he managed to tame his drives to stay within two shots of the leader, Kingston.

"The course condition is good, but I have to be very careful to drive well," said Jaidee. "If the ball flies right or left off the fairway, it's finished."

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