Ian Poulter’s late entry and arrival to the UBS Hong Kong Open had a minimal effect on the Englishman’s opening round as he carded a fine 67 to lie just three shots off the lead on day one at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
The Englishman’s well publicised last-minute dash from his US base to Hong Kong to replace Rich Beem as a tournament invitation meant he could not have been any less prepared for the start of the event. But he defied the odds in typical Poulter style with a great opening round of three under par – three strokes behind joint leaders Andrea Pavan and Lu Wei-chih.
Poulter’s Ryder Cup team mate Justin Rose was also in ominous form as he opened his week with a five under 65 to join Shiv Kapur and CT Pan in a share of second spot, with another European Ryder Cup star, Graeme McDowell among the pack on four under after the Northern Irishman’s 66.
The USA’s Ryder Cup pair of Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson posted scores of 68 and 69 on their UBS Hong Kong Open debuts, as over 10,000 spectators took advantage of the tournament’s ‘Free Thursday’ initiative to flock through the gates at Fanling and create a brilliant first day atmosphere.
After his unexpected drop from the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the beginning of the week had put his ability to fulfil his minimum number of European Tour events required to retain his Membership for 2016 in doubt, Poulter arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday night without his regular caddie and having not had the opportunity to carry out any of his usual meticulous tournament planning.
Instead he relied on the knowledge he has of the famous Fanling venue from previous performances – none more so than when he took the UBS Hong Kong Open title in 2010 – as he compiled five birdies and two dropped shots en route to his 67.
“I guess in the circumstances, it was pretty good,” smiled the 39 year old. “Had I nudged a three-footer in on seven for birdie to get to three under that would have been the start I was looking for. I didn’t; I missed it and then I bogeyed the next two holes to kind of take away the good work I had done in the first few holes.
“It took me awhile to get back to three under, but overall, I’ve played pretty nicely on a course which I’ve had to get to know again pretty quickly. But I have to be happy with that after landing last night.
“Having won here in the past definitely helped. I like the golf course. Fanling suits my game. It’s not all about length; it’s about position in play off the tee. When you’ve shot low rounds on a golf course in the past, you know your lines, you know where you want to be putting from. So yeah, it was nice to get back out there on the course.
“I saw Rich (Beem) in the hotel this morning, so I went over and said, that’s awfully kind of you to do this. He didn’t have to but he was nice enough to do it, and yeah, I have to thank him for that.”
Rose and McDowell, the respective US Open Champions of 2013 and 2010, were also pleased with their opening efforts.
Rose said: “I’m really happy with the start, and more pleased with how I played today, how I swung the club, struck the ball and how patient I stayed. I had a good strategy out there, and got to grips with the golf course for the first time.”
McDowell added: “I’m happy enough with that. You know, I was three under through ten and had my chances on the back nine. And you know, a few putts could have gone in, but generally very happy the way I putted today, so I can’t complain. Hit a lot of decent shots and I’m looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow. I had good company today with Dustin and Justin, two of the best players in the world, which is an inspiration in itself.”