Hoey gets a grip but Lowry loses touch on KL greens
Clubhouse leader Lee Westwood. Picture © Getty Images

Clubhouse leader Lee Westwood. Picture © Getty Images

Michael Hoey found his putting touch to fire a five under 67 and keep leader Lee Westwood in his sights in the weather-delayed Maybank Malaysian Open.

The Belfast man used the short stick just 24 times, single putting 12 times, as he ended the day just two strokes behind Westwood in provisional tie for third.

But Shane Lowry had a poor day with the putter at Kuala Lumpur GCC, two-putting all 18 greens in a 36-putt round of eight over 80.

The Clara man has struggled to find any kind of rhythm this season and while he was 39th in the Tswane Open and 56th in the Trophée Hassan II, he missed the first three cuts of the year in the desert swing and failed to make the weekend in the inaugual NH Collection Open in Sotogrande two weeks ago.

With earnings of €14,062 from six starts, Lowry is a lowly 176th in the Race to Dubai and under pressure now to find some form before the European Tour returns to Europe for a string of big money events in May.

As for Hoey, the five-time European Tour winner has made every cut this term with his best performance his runner up finish behind Ross Fisher in the Tswane Open in South Africa in March.

Out early in the day, he birdied the third and fourth and picked up another shot at the par-three 11th to get to three under par.

And while he dropped his only shot of the day at the 479-yard 12th, he holed a 50 footer for birdie at the 13th before picking up birdies at the 200-yard 15th and the short, par-four 17th.

“A lot of putts went in – that was the highlight," said the 35-year old. "I holed a 50-footer on the 13th up the hill. It was good chipping and putting all the way, so I’m really happy.

“It’s weird because my grips hadn’t set properly and I didn’t have a lot of confidence before I went out.

"The grips were moving slightly so I had to hold down the grip. So it just shows you in golf if you have low expectations you can play well.”

Buoyed by a top ten finish in last week’s Masters, Westwood overcame jetlag and fatigue to fire a seven under par 65 to lead by one shot from 2012 Ryder Cup team-mate Nicolas Colsaerts, who has struggled for form so far this year, and by two from Hoey and Portugal’s Ricardo Santos.

A late-afternoon storm delay of one hour and 18 minutes meant 14 groups will complete the first round on Friday morning but Westwood was pleased to get finished.

“I played well in Houston the week before the Masters and used that momentum going into the Masters," he said. "I played well last week in finishing seventh, and I was happy to carry that on today.

"Obviously this is a slightly easier golf course than Augusta, but if you’re shooting low-ish scores at Augusta, you should expect to come here and shoot low scores, which I did today."

Westwood opened with a bogey at the 10th but birdied the 12th, 14th and 16th to turn in 34 before racing home in 31.

After a birdie at the first and another at the fifth, he finished with three more in a row.

“It was nice to finish with three birdies. I holed one from about eight feet on my 16th, 25 feet on the second-last hole and a nice 15-footer with a bit of curl on the last.”

Colsaerts has struggled for form this year but he was pleased to make eight birdies in a six under 66.

“I’ve been waiting for a round like this since January 1st," the Belgian said. "I made a pretty steady start with a nice couple of par saves and then was able to get on that roll and get under par into a very comfortable position.

“I hit a lot of shots very close. It was pretty good to have a few birdies from very close range. I’ve felt I’ve played pretty well since early in the season, but there’s always been a stretch of holes where I’ve shot myself in the foot for some reason.

"I’ve missed good opportunities to have good weeks. So the plan is to come back here to get some momentum and confidence back.”

Simon Thornton birdied two par-fives on his back nine but despite hitting 13 greens, he had 33 putts in a two over 74 to finish the day tied for 78th.

Kells' Damien McGrane was also struggling on six over par with three to play, carding just one birdie against five bogeys and a double bogey seven at the 10th.