Paul San birdied two of his last three holes to sign in a second successive 69 and take a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the RM230,000 Tun Ahmad Sarji Trophy, the opening event of the 2023 Toyota Tour.

The 26-year-old talent leads at Saujana Golf & Country Club with a 36-hole total of six-under-par 138 (69, 69), one shot ahead of Danny Chia and Amir Nazrin.

Starting on the back nine of Saujana’s Bunga Raya Course, San birdied the par-five seventh with a great up-and-down after finding a greenside bunker with his second shot, and the par-four eighth from nine feet. He made a regulation par at the tough par-four ninth hole and is now in a great position to claim his second title on the local circuit, having broken through in last year’s PGM Northport Championship.

“I started off okay but the putter got cold in the middle. I think I hit it a lot better today and found more greens, just didn’t make as many putts. Once I crossed over, I started to be more aggressive on the greens and was making a lot more putts,” said San.

“I’ll keep doing my best and just try to make as many pars as I can, honestly. If the birdies happen to drop, keep it in the pocket,” he added.

Amir matched San’s 69 to move up the leaderboard into second position on four-under-par 140 (71-69), tied with veteran campaigner Chia (70, 70).

“I’m not feeling that good with my swing, so I had to rely on course management to stay up there. But I’m satisfied with my round. I’ll push myself harder and play better than the first two rounds,” said Amir, who is also 26 years old.

Amir will be gunning for his second win on the local tour and his second title of 2023, having won the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship earlier this year to become the first Malaysian to win on the All Thailand Golf Tour.

Chia meanwhile shrugged off an ailing back to card a battling 70 and keep himself in the running. The 50-year-old has been in fine form recently and just a few weeks ago carded a career low 62 in the final round of a Thai Senior PGA Tour event where he lost in a playoff.

“My body coordination has not been good this week, but my short game and my putting made up for it. My back is recovering but at the moment it’s still a bit weak,” said Chia, who was second in the inaugural event last year.

“I’ll just keep trying to hit fairways and greens, though the swing isn’t that great right now,” added the two-time Asian Tour winner.

Galven Green carded the lowest round of the day, a four-under-par 68 with five birdies and one bogey, to surge up the leaderboard into fifth position on one-under-par 143 (75-68). He is one shot behind veteran R. Nachimuthu who added a 70 to his opening 72.

The halfway cut came at 13-over-par, with 53 players making it to the final 36 holes.

The ladies’ event saw amateur Charlayne Chong card a 74 following an opening 75, moving up into joint top spot on five-over-par 149, tied with experienced professional and fellow Sabahan Aretha Pan (73-76).

“It was pretty challenging and I made a couple of silly mistakes yesterday, but I managed to roll some putts in today and it feels good. Hopefully I can come back with an under-par score tomorrow,” said the 20-year-old Chong, who is in her second year of a golf management course at University Utara Malaysia.

First round leader Pan was happy to remain at the top after struggling again with her irons. The 28-year-old won twice on the PGM Tour last year and is hoping for a good start to the 2023 season.

“My iron play was not sharp enough and I was in the wrong spot on the greens and had very long putts, so most of my bogeys were three-putts. I will play more aggressively tomorrow and on Saturday because you have to know where to miss the ball,” said Pan.

Dianne Luke meanwhile shot the best round so far among the ladies with a solid two-under-par 70, a massive 12 shots lower than her opening 80.

“Yesterday I was just uncomfortable over my shots and I wasn’t really confident when hitting shots or putting. Today was much better and I had much better discussions with my caddie, and that helped boost my confidence,” said Luke, who hails from Miri, Sarawak.

“It’s a really tough course and, as you can see, one day can be very different from the next. So I just want to go into tomorrow with no expectations and just enjoy the round,” added the 32-year-old, who has one title on the PGM Tour from 2019.

The top three ladies will be joined in the final 36 holes by experienced campaigner Ainil Johani Bakar (78, 78) and rookie pro Jocelyn Chee (76, 80).

The men are competing for RM200,000 in prize money with RM35,000 going to the winner, while the ladies purse is 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 at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club on November 14-17, which will be a co-sanctioned event with the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

138 (-6) – PAUL SAN 69-69
140 (-4) – AMIR NAZRIN 71-69, DANNY CHIA 70-70
142 (-2) – R NACHIMUTHU 72-70
143 (-1) – GALVEN GREEN 75-68
145 (+1) – KHOR KHENG HWAI 70-75, UMAR KHUSHAIRI 73-72
146 (+2) – ERVIN CHANG 76-70

149 (+5) – CHARLAYNE CHONG (A) 75-74, ARETHA PAN 73-76
152 (+8) – DIANNE LUKE 82-70 156 (+12) – AINIL JOHANI BAKAR 78-78, JOCELYN CHEE 76-80

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