Johor, Malaysia – Joost Luiten shot an eight-under 63 on Thursday to take the early lead at the Johor Open.
Luiten, who has yet to win since turning professional since 2006, had a flawless round with eight birdies at Horizon Hills Golf & Country Club to grab his first 18-hole lead on the European Tour. He's held the 36-hole lead a couple times, but failed to convert it into victory.
"I played really well in Singapore (last week), which gave me a lot of confidence to carry into this week," said Luiten. "I've been putting very well lately, and today that was the case again. I made some nice putts, and hopefully that can continue for the next few days."
Play was suspended shy of 5:00 a.m. (et) -- 6:00 p.m. local time -- and will resume again at 7:20 a.m. local time Friday morning. Most of the afternoon wave is still out on the course after officials halted the round due to heavy rainfall and electrical storms.
Defending champion Padraig Harrington is tied with Gregory Bourdy and Marcus Fraser in second at seven-under 64. Luiten and Harrington are two of eight members of the top-100 to participate in this week's event, with Louis Oosthuizen, the world's No. 37 player, leading the pack.
Oosthuizen finished his round at two-under 69 and is currently tied for 26th, a number that figures to change as the round gets back underway.
Charlie Wi, James Morrison and Nicolas Meitinger share fifth in the clubhouse at five-under 66, but Daniel Chopra and Zaw Moe are the leaders at minus-five among players who have yet to finish the first round. Chopra is through 14 holes, while Moe has finished 13.
This is the first year the Johor Open is sanctioned by the European Tour after four years solely on the Asian Tour.
Luiten has a lot to play for this week, despite the fact that he's solidly into the Dubai World Championship at 33rd in The Race to Dubai. If he plays well enough, he can still earn an exemption into the 2012 British Open (top 30) or a piece of the $7,500,000 bonus pool (top 15).
"It's already been a great season, and I'm looking forward to playing Dubai for the first time," Luiten said. "If I can finish in the top 30 and gain an exemption for The Open, that would round off a great season for me."
So far, so good.
He began on the back nine Thursday and had his first birdie at the par-five 13th hole. After a par came the highlight of the round -- four straight birdies from the 15th to make the turn at five-under.
Luiten didn't have as much success on his second nine, but he still had three birdies and no bogeys. The four consecutive birdies on the course's final four holes have to be encouraging if Luiten is to be in a final pairing come the weekend.
Following his round, Luiten tweeted "Great start with -8. Big storm again in malaysia, happy I am finished for the day," adding a picture of the rainfall outside his quarters.
NOTES: Other top-100 players include No. 70 Anthony Kim (68), No. 78 Camilo Villegas (-1 thru 14 holes), No. 80 Jamie Donaldson (69), No. 85 Ross Fisher (E thru 15) and No. 98 Raphael Jacquelin (73)...The field consists of 67 players each from the European and Asian Tours, eight invites, eight national qualifiers and six international qualifiers.