| Amandeep Johl on the first day of the Hong Kong Open Thursday. (AFP)
Fanling (Hong Kong): India’s Amandeep Johl found the shortest route around a short course on the opening day of the Hong Kong Open.
The bearded 32-year-old, with his wife acting as caddy, set out towards a first victory in nine years with a six-under-par 63 on a Hong Kong Club course playing to a par 69. Four players — Welshman Stephen Dodd, Sweden’s Henrik Nystrom, Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone and Mexico’s Pablo Del Olmo — are tied in second place at five under par.
A further nine players, among them Scotland’s Dean Robertson, Sweden’s Marten Orlander, Frenchman Thomas Levet and South Africa’s James Kingston are a shot further back at four under par.
Kingston recorded the 2003 European Tour season’s first albatross and the Asian Tour’s sixth ever albatross when he holed his seven wood second shot, from 220 yards on the par five ninth hole. Kingston also recorded an albatross on the Asian Tour in 2000.
Johl last tasted success when he won the 1993 Nepal Open and his best finish since then has been a fifth in last year’s Maekyung Open in Korea. He began his round steadily moving to one under par through eight holes but jumped to three under par when he eagled the ninth.
In top gear
Johl then moved into top gear with birdies at the 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th holes where he moved to seven under par before the 12-year tour pro bogeyed the 17th to fall back to his eventual score of six under par.
“I tried hard today to keep out of my own way and battled hard as I am not used to TV cameras following me around the course,” said Johl. “It is just so easy to lose your concentration because these guys are moving all over the place.”
Nick Faldo was pleased to birdie his last two holes in a round of 68. Faldo was competing in Hong Kong for the first time since winning the 1990 Johnnie Walker Classic here. “I just hit a patch of bad shots and had a few missed putts and paid the penalty,” he said. “It was a nice way to finish with two birdies but the way the course is, it’s all pretty tricky.”
Jose Maria Olazabal had raced to three under par with three straight birdies from his second hole in the defence of his title. But the Spaniard, who has won once since winning in Hong Kong 12 months ago, dropped four shots in five holes mid-round before ending with a birdie and an even par 69 total.
Olazabal won the event last year with a shot of the year down the last but was so far right on Wednesday with his three wood on the same hole that his ball was nearly out-of-bounds.
“I hit a really bad shot at 18, three-putted the first, hit a bad tee shot at the third that cost me a bogey, so after my ninth I just didn’t hit the ball well at all. It’s a different course to the one I won on last year and it’s a bit strange competing on a par 69.
“It’s the first time ever I have played on a par 69 course.”
Dodd won the longest drive award last year with a booming 348-yard tee shot but his mood after his opening round half mirrored the bleak weather. Dodd was six under par playing the last but his drive kicked right off the fairway to end up behind a tree leaving him no option but to chip out sideways on route to a bogey and a round of 64.
“I played really well today and even though I dropped a shot at the last, the course was there for the taking,” said Dodd.
Taiwan teenager, Shih-Kai Lo, meanwhile, created history by becoming the youngest ever player to compete in a European Tour event. The 13-year old high school student was followed on the first tee by a TV news crew and photographers.
Despite the attention Lo parred his first two holes before taking a double bogey at his third after putting a ball out of bounds before signing for a four over par 73.
But at age 13 years, nine months and eight days, Lo is 16 months and six days younger than Sergio Garcia, the Tour’s previous youngest when he stepped on to the first tee in the 1995 Turespana Open Mediterrana in Valencia.
“That is a surprise to be the youngest but it is more of an honour this week just to play alongside the best players in Asia and Europe,” said Lo. Lo became the youngest player to contest an Asian Tour event when he competed in the Taiwan Open earlier this year.