Lawrie leads the Irish challenge in Kuala Lumpur

Dubliner three off the lead after his first round, Harrington one further back

Stephen Gallacher in action during the first round of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

Stephen Gallacher in action during the first round of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

Thu, Mar 21, 2013, 12:24

Peter Lawrie within striking distance of the lead at the Maybank Malaysian Open following an impressive four-under par first round of 68 in sweltering conditions at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

Lawrie trails the big-hitting Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat by three shots after play was abandoned due to a heavy thunderstorm with 78 yet to finish their rounds.

Padraig Harrington is a shot further back on three under while Gareth Maybin managed just seven holes before play was suspended but had alread dropped four shots.

Luke Donald, the highest ranked player in the field, insisted jet-lag was not a factor after finding himself nine shots off the pace.

Donald only arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday after finishing fourth in the defence of his Tampa Bay Championship at the weekend, a result which had him looking forward with optimism to the US Masters next month.

The 35-year-old was adamant the 12-hour time difference would not be a problem, but was nevertheless far from his best in compiling a two-over 74 in conditions that saw two players retire ill before play was abandoned.

Tournament officials will now hope to get the event back on track over the next two days, with an early finish planned for Sunday to allow the country’s prime minister to attend the prize-giving ceremony before heading to the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Starting from the 10th, Donald dropped three shots in a row from the 11th and, after chipping in for birdie from short of the first green, ran up a double-bogey six on the second after pitching into a greenside bunker.

The former world number one then missed good birdie chances on the next two holes before holing from six feet on the fifth, while a closing birdie from similar range on the ninth at least boosted his hopes of making the halfway cut on his tournament debut.

“Today the game was quite tough for me,” Donald told European Tour Radio. “It’s one of those courses where if you are a little bit off it can get you.

“I did not play the hard holes very well and when I did have opportunities I couldn’t take them on the greens.

“It was one of those frustrating rounds where I got very little momentum. It was a nice birdie on the last, so hopefully I can use that as a little bit of a kickstart for tomorrow’s round.

“I got off to a slow start, three over after four, and was just hanging on after that. There’s a lot of trouble out there and I found too much of it.

“I gave it my all on every shot and there’s a low one out there. This course can produce some low scores and hopefully I can have mine tomorrow, that’s what I need to get back into the mix for this tournament.

“I slept pretty well the last two nights and felt pretty good, it was just a case of not being quite on today.”

Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, Denmark’s Anders Hansen and France’s Gregory Bourdy were a shot behind Kiradech after rounds of 66, while Scotland’s Scott Jamieson was six under through 10 holes and pre-tournament favourite Charl Schwartzel four under after 11 before play was suspended.

Molinari, who changed coach in December after missing three months following wrist surgery, has not made a halfway cut in five events this season, but carded eight birdies and two bogeys in his round.

“It was a good round of golf finally,” said Molinari, who is now coached by Sean Foley, who works with Tiger Woods and Justin Rose among others.

“Sean is making big changes but I needed them because the way I played last year especially I didn’t like it.

“I like what Sean says, I have a lot more knowledge about what I’m doing on the course and as soon as I miss a shot I know how to fix it.

“Sean speaks a lot of sense about golf and right now he is definitely the most knowledgeable coach in golf.”