Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy remained locked in their Race To Dubai battle when they carded matching four-under-par 66s on the opening day of the UBS Hong Kong Open on Thursday (12 November).
The duo’s efforts left them four shots off the lead in the US$2.5 million showpiece being held at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
World No.4 Westwood mixed six birdies with two bogeys on his debut in the tournament.
“It was good,” said the English ace. “The only green I missed was the last hole I played and that is a tough hole, No.9. I wouldn’t say I flushed it but I had enough control to hit 17 out of 18 greens.
“I had a lot of chances but found the greens very puzzling. I think I’m at a real disadvantage having only played the course once before [in the pro-am].
“It’s alright learning a course tee to green – it’s pretty obvious how you play tee to green – but on the greens, it’s such an advantage having played a few tournaments round here. So to start with four-under 66, I’m delighted.
“The only two bogeys I made were three putts and I had a load of chances.”
Asked what was so tough about the greens, Westwood replied: “The grain. It really does affect the ball, as much as anywhere. Sometimes it breaks up the hill.
“After about six or seven holes I called my caddie in and he had more of an idea. We gradually got it right and I eventually holed a couple.”
As for the Race To Dubai, Westwood said he was trying not to think about it while playing this week. “I’m trying to win the UBS Hong Kong Open and that’s all,” he insisted.
Westwood leads the Race To Dubai with season earnings of €2,404,579 – a lead of €52,320 over McIlroy with just two tournaments remaining, Hong Kong and next week’s Dubai World Championship.
McIlroy – joint runner-up in the UBS Hong Kong Open last year – had five birdies and a lone bogey as he kept pace with his rival.
“There are 54 holes left so it doesn’t matter until Sunday,” the Northern Irish youngster said of his battle with Westwood. “We’re both playing pretty well to be in the positions we’re in so I’m not surprised Lee is up there.
“I’ve just got to keep doing it. I’m not sure if three more 66s will be good enough so I might need to go a little better over the next three days.”
McIlroy admitted that playing in his third straight UBS Hong Kong Open could give him an advantage over Westwood.
“It’s just a question of getting used to the grain,” he said. “I don’t struggle too much. You just have to look to see which way the grass is going and then guess how much the grass is going to affect a putt. There’s no exact science to it.”
Thailand’s Udorn Duangdecha leads the tournament after carding a superb eight-under 62.
The UBS Hong Kong Open is once again co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.