Kang Wook Soon rolled back the years with a brilliant six-under-par 64 to grab the first-round lead at the UBS Hong Kong Open.
The Korean was almost flawless at a sun-kissed Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling on Thursday with a bogey-free round that recalled his glory days of the Nineties.
“I hit a lot of good shots out there and my putting was also good, so I’m really happy,” said Kang, who had a one-shot advantage over India’s Jyoti Randhawa, Canadian Rick Gibson and Sweden’s Martin Erlandsson.
Kang, 39, was the last Asian to win the Hong Kong Open, in 1998, since when there have been six victories by European players.
So it was ironic that in a new era for the famous old tournament, with Swiss bank UBS beginning a four-year title sponsorship agreement, Fanling should witness a blast from the past.
Kang, who spent part of 2004 on the Nationwide Tour in the United States, birdied the par-four opening hole and played steadily until reeling off five birdies in a row from 13 to 17.
“Up to that point, I had missed putts of six feet on 10 and 12,” he said. “Then I started to read the greens a bit differently. I also looked back at my past successes here in Asia and the memories certainly helped me.”
Kang had plenty of highlights to recall from his early days on the Asian Tour, including Order of Merit triumphs in 1996 and 1998.
He also revealed that a new fitness regime, including mountain trekking back home in Korea, had helped his game.
“My condition is good. I’m starting to concentrate and focus a bit better now as well and I’m feeling good about my game. During the summer, I spent a lot of time doing mountain trekking.
“I would drive to the Suh-Ruk Mountain, which is about four hours from Seoul, and do a bit of walking. It takes about six to seven hours to get up and down the mountain, which is 1,700 metres, and I did that about 10 times during summer. It’s basically helped me get fitter and I’ve lost a bit of fat round the waist as well!”
Randhawa, who started on the 10th hole, produced six birdies and a lone bogey in his 65 and was especially happy to save par on the ninth hole, his last.
“I got stuck in the bunker,” he said. “I hit the perfect drive and thought the ball would draw back in the fairway, but it went straight in the bunker. I didn’t have a good shot but I hit a great eight iron out short and made a good chip and putt for par.”
The Indian was also happy playing with his own clubs and clothes after his luggage failed to arrive from Portugal for last week’s Volvo China Open in Shenzhen.
“That helps,” he said. “It was probably two or three shots difference with different clubs. Especially on this course, you hit a lot of short shots with wedges and it does make a lot of difference when you play with your own clubs.”
Gibson bogeyed the first before rattling off four birdies in a row from the fifth hole. “I just relaxed and made a nice putt for par on four from 12 feet – I think that got me settled in,” he said.
Erlandsson had no problem identifying what had gone right for him. “It was a fantastic putting round for me today,” he said. “I think I was 11 putts after nine holes so that helped a lot and that was the key for me.”
England’s Richard McEvoy, Francois Delamontagne of France and Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen were two shots off the pace after each shooting four-under 66.
Of the tournament’s big guns, Korea’s KJ Choi had the best day with a three-under 67. Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, the defending champion, carded 69s while Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn had an even-par 70.