Thursday, 18 November 2010:
New Zealander Mark Brown carded the lowest round of his professional career to lead the UBS Hong Kong Open from a world-class chasing pack that includes the Northern Irish superstars Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
McIlroy and US Open Champion McDowell posted respective scores 63 and 65 to open their bids to win at the Hong Kong Golf Club in some style but it was Brown who stole the show with a brilliant 62 to assume a one-shot lead of McIlroy and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.
Brown was delighted to upstage world stars such as McIlroy, McDowell, Ian Poulter and Singh and revealed that golf’s magic number of 59 did flash through his mind when he moved to eight under par through 13 holes at Fanling.
“It kind of did,” said the Kiwi. “I birdied four to go eight under and the fifth hole, the par three, I hit a beautiful shot into five or six feet and thought if I can knock that in and get to nine under with four holes to play, that it was a possibility. But I missed the putt and then didn’t really give myself many makeable chances to finish off. So that went out the window pretty quickly.”
Since winning back-to-back titles in Asia in 2008, which earned him playing rights in Europe, the 35-year-old fell off the radar just as quickly as he rose to fame but hooking up with his childhood friend Shane Kuiti as his caddie this week has brought about a fresh outlook in Brown’s game.
“He (Shane) teaches golf just over the border in Shenzhen and I grew up with him at my home course in New Zealand. He sort of got me back to a few things that I used to do when I was young, swing wise, and we just worked on a few of those things at the start of the week and seems to be working,” said Brown.
McIlroy’s game was also in fine working order as he bids to banish his Hong Kong bridesmaid tag having finished runner-up here for the past two years.
“It is a great start to the tournament obviously,” said McIlroy. “Going out and shooting a good first round is a great start.
“The conditions are perfect for scoring. There wasn’t any wind and when the greens are that good in the morning you can take advantage of it and that is what I was able to do today.”
Singh didn’t have the advantage of fresh morning greens but, inspired by the presence of his wife and baby son who have recently joined him on Tour for the first time since Harjai was born nine months ago, the Indian flew to the top of the leaderboard.
Former UBS Hong Kong Open champion Simon Dyson is one behind McIlroy and Singh on six under alongside Denmark’s Soren Hansen, with McDowell joined by fellow Irishman Damien McGrane, Korean Nam Young, Welshman Rhys Davies and the English duo of Kenneth Ferrie and Oliver Wilson.
Dyson had a hole in one on the par three 12th hole, his perfect wedge winning him US$ 10,000 worth of UBS shares, while the tournament sponsor will also donate US$ 20,000 to the tournament’s charity, ‘Operation Santa Claus’.
McDowell , meanwhile, who is bidding to finish the season as Europe’s Number One was pleased with his first round effort despite a dropped shot at the ninth hole, his last of the day. The Northern Irishman is also keen to stay ahead of his friend and compatriot McIlroy in the World Rankings, having stolen his Ninth spot last week.
“I played really well today,” said McDowell. “I think the only green I missed was the last hole, which was the 9th hole. I played great. Rory likes this golf course a lot. He’s very confident at the minute, and you know, he’s making plenty of birdies. I’d love to have a chance to go head to head with him on Sunday. That would be nice. But he’s definitely a bit of a specialist around this place and he’s definitely a man to keep close to this week.”
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