Having graduated to The European Tour from the 2001 Challenge Tour rankings, Sebastien Delagrange wasted little time in making an impression as he moved into the lead after the first round of the BMW Asian Open, the first counting event on the 2002 European Tour International Schedule.
The 27 year old Frenchman, who took up sparring recently as a method of improving his aggression, muscled his way to the top of the leaderboard in the jointly-sanctioned event with the Davidoff Tour, with a four under par 68 in demanding blustery conditions at the Westin Resort, Ta Shee in Taiwan.
Delagrange, who won twice on the 2001 Challenge Tour within three weeks on his way to sixth place on the final rankings, led the way by a solitary shot from three players, England’s Gary Clark and Jamie Spence, and Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone.
Out in the first group of the day and starting from the tenth tee, the man from Boulogne wasted little time in staking his claim on the 273,702 euro (£169,632) first prize with birdies at the tenth and 11th holes, before further birdies at the 16th and 18th saw the Frenchman ‘out’ in 32.
Delagrange’s excellent start continued with birdies at the two par fives on the Ta Shee front nine, the 535 yards third and the 541 yards sixth, to move him to six under par in total before wayward drives cost him shots on his final two holes, the eighth and ninth.
“I played well today especially as I only had two hours sleep last night," he said. "It is also pleasing because this is the first time that I have played in Asia."
Of the three players in closest order to the Frenchman, the most remarkable round was posted by Gary Clark, who finished fifth, one place ahead of Delagrange, in the 2001 Challenge Tour rankings.
The 30 year old Londoner looked to be once again exhibiting the consistency which saw him record nine top ten finishes on the Challenge Tour this season when he birdied four of the first eight holes without dropping a shot.
But Clark’s round went haywire in the remaining ten holes, the Englishman featuring three birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey six at the 434 yards 16th on his card to see him have to settle for a a share of second place on 69 with Qatar Masters champion Johnstone and Spence.
Five players shared fifth place after opening 70s England’s Garry Evans and Barry Lane, Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and José Maria Olazábal, and Stephen Scahill of New Zealand.
The highlight of Olazábal’s round came at the third with an eagle three and the former double Masters champion admitted he was delighted with his score in such difficult conditions.
"I'm very pleased, I think it's a good round,” he said. “The wind was very strong and it was difficult to score well. The eagle on the third, my 12th hole, was the big turnaround. Before then I struck the ball quite well and didn't score as well as I should have. Then I made a huge putt from around 45 feet there from the edge of the green and that helped the score a lot."
Another birdie from six feet on the seventh cancelled out his only bogey of the day on the 12th and Olazábal added: "It was very difficult out there. I've been hitting some times three clubs more than usual and the greens are very difficult. We're not used to putting on this type of grass in Europe and it's very difficult for me to read the breaks properly."
England's Barry Lane also carded a two-under-par 70 with five birdies and three bogeys, most of those coming in the first six holes with a par first appearing on his card on the seventh.
"It's not easy to get it close," Lane said. "The greens are actually slower than they were in the pro-am yesterday, they haven't cut quite a few of them because it would have become a bit impossible.
"I think they've watered them a bit as well because it's so hard to stop the ball on the greens as they all slope front to back. But I played lovely and hit a few really close for some of my birdies."
Further down the leaderboard Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who won back to back tournaments in Asia earlier this year at the Carlsberg Malaysian Open and the Caltex Singapore Masters, finished with a 71 while New Zealand's Michael Campbell was round in 72, level par.
One shot behind Campbell on 73 was an exhausted Nick Faldo, who only arrived in Ta Shee on Tuesday morning having travelled through 13 time zones after playing in the inaugural UBS Warburg Cup at Kiawah Island.
The 44-year-old admitted his body-clock "did not have a clue" and although he opened well with an eagle at the third , three bogeys in five holes from the fourth saw the six time Major winner drop back to one over par for the day, where he finished.