Date: October 30, 2008

Tall times for Smith

Welshman Craig Smith fired a sparkling seven-under-par 65 to lead the first round of the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia on Thursday as Australians Mitchell Brown and Rick Kulacz found themselves two strokes off the pace. Smith, who stands a towering six feet eight inches tall, produced seven birdies at the Royal Johor Country Club to enjoy a rare view from atop the leaderboard at the US $500,000 Asian Tour event. Defending champion Artemio Murakami also enjoyed a strong start, mixing six birdies against a lone bogey for a 67 to trail by two, a score matched by New Zealand&aposs Mahal Pearce and Australian duo Kulacz, the recent Brunei Open champion, and Brown. Sweden&aposs Niclas Fasth, a former Ryder Cup player, launched his campaign with a bogey-free 68 for tied sixth place alongside Australian Kane Webber, while South African star Retief Goosen carded a 72 in what is his second Iskandar Johor Open. Smith, 28, is reputed to be the tallest player on any international Tour but his form hasn&apost been as lofty as his soaring presence, where he is presently languishing in 143rd place on the Asian Tour&aposs Order of Merit. However, a bogey-free card sprinkled with seven birdies launched him into pole position and put a smile firmly on his face. “It was nice. The course is a challenging one. You have to do the simple things right and all I was trying to do was not to make mistakes and play sensibly.” “I was able to capitalise on a few good putts,” he said. A two-week break at home has refreshed Kulacz&aposs zest for the game. The talented Aussie, the world junior champion in 2001, secured his maiden Asian Tour triumph at the Brunei Open in August but started to play poorly after putting too much pressure on himself to perform. Starting from the 10th, he eagled the 11th from 20 feet after an exquisite six iron approach and added three more birdies to stay in the hunt. “I think I put too much pressure on myself as I tried to win again after Brunei. The last couple of months have been a blur but I took two weeks off and saw my coach and relaxed a little bit,” said Kulacz. Iskandar Johor Open – first round 65 – Craig Smith (WAL) 67 – Rick Kulacz (AUS), Mahal Pearce (NZL), Mitchell Brown (AUS), Artemio Murakami (PHI), 68 – Niclas Fasth (SWE), Kane Webber (AUS) 69 – Panuwat Muenlek (THA), Scott Barr (AUS), Richard Moir (AUS), Thaworn Wiratchant (THA), Antonio Lascuna (PHI) 70 – Iain Steel (MAS), Firoz Ali (IND), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND), Haziq Hamizan (MAS – am), Henry Epstein (AUS), M. Murugiah (SIN), Martin Rominger (SUI), Josh Lane (AUS) 71 – M. Sasidaran (MAS), Lim Eng Seng (MAS), Simon Dunn (SCO), Anthony Kang (USA), Rahil Gangjee (IND), Jerome Delariarte (PHI), Shaifubari Muda (MAS), Gavin Flint (AUS), David Freeman (HKG), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Chong Chee Ming (MAS), Gavin Kyle (MAS – am), Chang Hong-wei (TPE), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Ben Leong (MAS), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Airil Rizman (MAS), Anis Hassan (MAS), Ronnachai Jamnong (THA), Namchoak Tantipokakul (THA)