Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand outscored his more illustrious playing partner, Sergio Garcia, by two strokes to move into the first round lead in the Johnnie Walker Classic at Lake Karrinup Country Club, Perth , Western Australia.
Jaidee, 32, who trained as a parachutist in the Thai army, shot a five under par 67 to Garcia’s 69 to take a two stroke lead over the Spaniard and New Zealand’s Michael Campbell at the end of a difficult day made more hazardous by the swirling, dry wind and rock hard, fast greens.
On his first trip to Australia the Davidoff Tour Order of Merit winner, who did not turn professional until three years ago, proved that it was safer to keep both feet on the ground by carding six birdies when the conditions were more benign in the early morning.
Setting off in the illustrious company of World Number four Garcia, winner of the season-opening Mercedes Championships in America earlier this month, and Australian Adam Scott, Jaidee still managed to birdie two of his first three holes. He turned in 34 and then picked up three more strokes in a front nine 33.
“The greens are very hard and fast. That was the only problem. I wasn’t nervous, maybe I was lucky,” said Thongchai, who won once and had 11 top ten finishes on the Davidoff Tour last year.
Garcia was impressed with Thongchai’s game. He said: “Jaidee played very steady, very well. He hit the ball well and straight and hit some really good iron shots and made some good putts. He doesn’t hit it that short either. I saw him play on television with Olazábal last year in Hong Kong but this is the first time I have seen him in the flesh.”
Garcia, who eagled the par five 15th, was content with his first day effort. He commented: “I am satisfied because the course is playing tough. It could have been lower, that’s for sure. I felt I hit a lot of good shots. We’ll take that to start with.”
Campbell, pipped for the New Zealand Open two weeks ago, let a really low round slip away with three bogeys in his last six holes. Having started on the tenth, the Kiwi had five successive birdies from the 13th and said: "I was very, very surprised by that. I'm not a morning person. But all of a sudden I went berserk.
"The last six were a bit of a shame, but the course changed completely. The greens got two or three feet faster and a lot harder. You could hear the thud when the ball landed." It was no great surprise to see his name on the leaderboard, though. Campbell has won on his last two visits to Perth for the Heineken Classic.
Lee Westwood was another who allowed an excellent score to slip away over the closing holes. Playing the course conventionally, he doubled bogeyed the 16th and bogeyed the last to finish on level par. He said: “I played great – the best for over a year. I hit a lot of good shots and with an ounce of luck it could have been 67. I just got unlucky a few times and made some three putts.”
Colin Montgomerie caused a bit of a stir by unveiling a long putter for the first time. Gripped conventionally, but with the shaft tucked into his stomach, the new ‘weapon’ didn’t work the oracle as the Scot fired a 76.
"I have been trying it out for a couple of weeks at Wisley” he said. “I didn’t bring a short one with me but we’ll see what happens tomorrow with an earlier tee time when the course isn’t playing as tough.”