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Shabbir sets the pace at Pakistan Open

January 18, 2007 20:19 IST

Muhammad Shabbir enjoyed a dream start on home soil after firing a six-under-par 66 for the opening round lead at the Pakistan Open on Thursday.

Shabbir was glad to be back in the groove after sustaining an injury to his lower back last year as he blasted a blemish free round that included six birdies at the Karachi Golf Club.

Malaysia's Airil Rizman Zahari was a stroke behind in sole second spot firing six birdies against a lone bogey at the US$300,000 event.

Vivek Bhandari of India also got off to a solid start with a 68 alongside compatriots Uttam Singh Mundy and Rahul Ganapathy and Scotland's Barry Hume.

After celebrating the birth of his first child last month, England's Simon Hurd has returned to the game on a strong note in joint third together with Richard Lee of New Zealand.

Defending champion from England Chris Rodgers, who was ranked 25th on the Asian Tour's UBS Order of Merit last season, enjoyed a bogey free round as he fired a 69 in joint ninth place.

Shabbir was in the leading fray after just four holes when he carded three consecutive birdies at the second, third and fourth holes. With three more birdies at the 10th, 11th and 15th holes, Shabbir has renewed confidence for a title charge in Karachi.

"Everything worked out well for me today. My putting and driving were all on target and I am very happy," said Shabbir, who finished joint 11th place last year.

"I suffered from severe back pain during the Brunei Open last August. I had close to no golf the past three months and got back to the swing of things only two weeks ago. So I am very pleased to have such an excellent start on home soil," he added.

Airil, 28, who won seven titles on the domestic circuit, aims to take it slow as he enjoyed one of his best starts with six birdies against a dropped shot.

"I am definitely very happy with this start but it is only the first event of the year, so I want to take it as easy as I can," said Airil.

"I worked on some new techniques on my short game during the break and hope it will work out good this season. I believe my changes in the long run will benefit my game," he added.

Hurd, who carded six birdies against two bogeys, has been inspired to deliver a good start to the year since the birth of his daughter Evie Elizabeth Hurd last month.  

"I struggled in the second hole with a bogey but apart from that, I played really solid and hit every green in regulation after that," said Hurd.

"My daughter was born on December 3rd on our first year anniversary, quite bizarre. I spent seven weeks at home before coming here," he added.

Malaysia's Ben Leong lost grip in the last three holes as he ended the round with a 71 in tied 34th place.

"I was three under until I bogeyed the seventh and ninth holes. I am disappointed but still happy to see Airil among the frontrunners. I hope to improve my score and join him among the other top players tomorrow," said Leong.

Leading first round scores

66 - Muhammad Shabbir (PAK)

67 - Airil Rizman Zahari (MAS)

68 - Vivek Bhandari (IND), Uttam Singh Mundy (IND), Barry Hume (SCO), Rahul Ganapathy (IND), Richard Lee (NZL), Simon Hurd (ENG)

69 - Aktar Ali (PAK), Amardip Malik (IND), Stephen Scahill (NZL), Chris Rodgers (ENG), Rick Gibson (CAN), Yeh Chang-ting (TPE), Lin Chien-bing (TPE), Jerome Delariarte (PHI), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND)

70 - Simon Dunn (SCO), Peter Erofejeff (FIN), Hur In-hoi (KOR), Imdad Hussain (PAK), Scott Hend (AUS), Muhammed Munir (PAK), Marcus Both (AUS), Craig Kamps (RSA), Park Jun-won(KOR), Mitchell Brown (AUS), Shane Baxter (AUS), Adam Le Vesconte (AUS), Tony Lascuna (PHI), Lin Wen-hong (TPE), Mark Mouland (WAL), Amjad Yousaf (PAK).