November 15, 2007 – KJ Choi set a scorching pace on the first day of the UBS Hong Kong Open on Thursday (November 15) with an eight-under-par 62.
The Korean ace fired nine birdies – including five in a row on the back nine – against a lone bogey at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Welshman Garry Houston on a day of low scoring at the US$2.25 million showpiece.
“It’s the first time I’ve shot a 62 here, so I’m very happy,” said Choi, whose best finish in the UBS Hong Kong Open was joint second in 2005.
“I expected the greens to be softer so that helped as well. A lot of players had a tough time reading the lies, but I was quite comfortable out there and my putting was solid throughout the round.”
The US-based Choi – a six-time winner on the PGA Tour – birdied three in a row from No.2 but tripped up with a bogey on the par-four ninth.
A birdie on No.10 got him back on track and he really hit form from the par-three 12th, a near-perfect tee shot and putt triggering a run of five birdies.
“I started getting my rhythm on the 10th hole which required an accurate drive,” explained Choi, the world No.12.
“Then, on the back nine, I was very comfortable with my strokes. I parred the 11th and then I had a good birdie on the 12th and I felt like I was getting back into the rhythm again.”
Houston, meanwhile, lit up the UBS Hong Kong Open with a blemish-free round until his final hole [the ninth] when he three-putted from 50 feet, but he was still happy.
“Very pleased,” was his reaction. “I putted very well on the front nine. My back nine, I was disappointed to finish with a bogey but the greens can come up and get you round here, they are very grainy and that one happened to get me.
“I played very well and putted very solidly. On the whole my putting is solid but I finished the 2007 season [in Europe] with five or six tournaments where I didn’t putt my best – normally it is my best tool, but it was nice it performed today and I hit the ball pretty good.
“Today was a big improvement in all aspects. It was a welcome change in my form of late so, hopefully, I can carry that through.”
Swedish duo Fredrik Andersson Hed and Robert Karlsson were two shots off the pace after each carded a 64.
A further shot back on 65 were two former Hong Kong champions, Korean veteran Kang Wook Soon and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez, together with Scotland’s Barry Hume.
In-form Daniel Chopra – fresh from his maiden PGA Tour victory in the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro in Florida, last month – was happy with his opening 66.
“I feel very good on the course and very content about my game at the moment,” said the Indian-raised Swede, who cut his teeth on the Asian Tour before moving to the US.
“I’m relaxed and I don’t feel like I have to push it too hard. I’m enjoying this time of year as well, coming back over here and meeting all my old friends and seeing all the beautiful places, it’s almost like you’re playing a little bit more relaxed golf.”
Chopra made headlines a year ago at the UBS Hong Kong Open when he almost trod on a huge snake while looking for his ball in the rough.
“I’ve kept away from the trees so far this year and I’m definitely more aware now!” he laughed.
Two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir each carded a one-under 69.
PGA Tour regulars Stuart Appleby and Trevor Immelman both finished on 71.
With a strong contingent from the PGA Tour, the field for the 2007 UBS Hong Kong Open – again jointly sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours – is the strongest in the tournament’s history.
The Open was first staged in 1959 – making it the territory’s oldest professional sporting event – and has been held every year at the Hong Kong Golf Club.