Malaysian legend Danny Chia showed that there is still a lot of fuel left in his tank with an emphatic victory in the RM230,000 Tun Ahmad Sarji Trophy at Saujana Golf & Country Club.

The 50-year-old Chia fought off a bad back and a host of younger players to win the opening event of the 2023 Toyota Tour with a solid closing 70 for a 72-hole total of seven-under-par 281 (70-70-71-70). Wielding a near faultless short game at Saujana’s Bunga Raya Course, he finished four shots ahead of overnight leader Paul San, who closed with 75, and rookie Ervin Chang who signed off with an excellent 69.

Starting the final round one back of San, Chia levelled the score with a birdie on the par-five opening hole. He dropped a shot at the third hole but birdies on 5 and 7 gave him a three-shot lead at the turn over San, who had one birdie and three bogeys on the par-37 outward stretch.

“It was definitely a relief after the last hole! Since day one I kept telling myself to take it one hole at a time. I think I played great considering I did not hit the ball well,” said Chia, whose last tournament win came in the 2018 PGM Johor Closed Championship.

“It’s a great feeling to win again after so many years. I thought it would be very hard for me to compete with the younger players who are much longer than me. But at the end of the day, it’s the score that counts and I worked very hard on my short game and putting to make up for the distance,” noted the two-time Asian Tour winner.

Chia will not have much time to rest as he leaves in a few days to compete in a Thai Senior PGA Tour event. Just a few weeks ago, he lost in a playoff in the opening event of that circuit after closing with a career low 62.

While disappointed with not being able to win his second title on the local circuit, San was magnanimous in defeat and paid tribute to Chia.

“There was a lot to learn from a veteran like Danny and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. There’s a reason why he’s a multiple Asian Tour winner, multiple British Open participant and a true legend in Malaysian golf,” said San, who finished with a total of three-under-par 285.

“I guess the one positive thing I could take away was that I managed to stay in contention despite having some swing and body issues leading up to this week.”

Chang, who turned professional last year after winning two gold medals in the SEA Games, nailed a long birdie putt on the par-four closing hole to surge into a share of second place with San.

“Overall I am pretty happy with my performance over the last three days, especially after the 76 in Round 1. I started to get more feel in Round 2 and that led up to my solid final round performance today.

“Saujana’s Bunga Raya Course is one of the toughest golf courses in Malaysia and always tests your skills. I’ve played there many times and am still trying to figure it out,” said the 24-year-old.

Veteran campaigners Khor Kheng Hwai and R. Nachimuthu were fourth and fifth on two-under-par and one-under-par respectively.

Best amateur honours went to 23-year-old talent Ryan Fernandez, who finished in joint 13th place on eight-over-par 296.

Experience also ruled in the ladies championship when Aretha Pan stormed to the title with a closing round of one-under-par 71 for a total of six-over-par 294 (73-76-74-71). The 28-year-old finished five shots ahead of rookie pro Jocelyn Chee, who finished her campaign with an excellent 69.

Third place and best lady amateur honours went to Pan’s fellow Sabahan, Charlayne Chong on 15-over-par 303, while Ainil Johani Bakar was fourth a shot further back. Both Chong and Ainil, playing in the leader flight with Pan, shot closing 79s.

“I’m pretty happy with my game today because everything went well and luck was on my side. Even when I hit a poor shot, I had a really good bounce,” said Pan, who won twice on the PGM Tour last year.

“It always feels good to win, especially since I’m a bit rusty after not playing any tournaments for the last few months. The next two Toyota Tour tournaments are in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, and the Sabah event is at my home club, so definitely I’ll play in that one,” she added.

The men competed for RM200,000 in prize money with RM35,000 going to the winner, while the ladies’ purse was RM30,000 with the champion taking home RM10,000.

The Tun Ahmad Sarji Trophy will be followed by eight more closed tournaments including stops in Sarawak and Sabah. The 2023 season will culminate in the RM350,000 Toyota Championship on November 14-17, which will be a co-sanctioned event with the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

281 (-7) – DANNY CHIA 70-70-71-70
285 (-3) – ERVIN CHANG 76-70-70-69, PAUL SAN 69-69-72-75
286 (-2) – KHOR KHENG HWAI 70-75-70-71
287 (-1) – R. NACHIMUTHU 72-70-73-72
290 (+2) – AMIR NAZRIN 71-69-76-74, UMAR KHUSAIRI 73-72-73-72
291 (+3) – DAENG ABDUL RAHMAN 73-74-71-73
292 (+4) – DANIAL FAIDZ 77-71-73-71 294 (+6) – RIZAL AMIN 74-73-74-73

294 (+6) – ARETHA PAN 73-76-74-71
299 (+11) – JOCELYN CHEE 76-80-74-69
303 (+15) – CHARLAYNE CHONG (A) 75-74-75-79
304 (+16) – AINIL JOHANI BAKAR 78-78-69-79
310 (+22) – DIANNE LUKE 82-70-82-76

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