Australian Nick O’Hern birdied the last three holes to establish a new course record 64, eight under par, over the Masters Course at Laguna National Golf and Country Club to lead the Caltex Singapore Masters by a stroke.
The left-hander came home in just 30 strokes to equal his career low round on The European Tour and edge ahead of Frenchman Christophe Pottier with Spain’s Carlos Rodiles a further shot back on six under par 66.
It was O’Hern’s first stop in Singapore after many years passing through the country in transit on his way to and from Australia without ever getting past customs. Having finally made the stopover the 30 year old from Perth made the most of his visit by rolling in nine birdies with just one dropped shot.
“It was unexpected,” said O’Hern. “I was on the range and hitting the ball kind of ordinary and all week I haven’t been hitting the ball that great. Then on the third or fourth hole something clicked. I’ve been putting well lately so just holed some nice putts which complements things.”
After starting on the tenth O’Hern picked up his first two birdies on the 11th and 12th holes holing from six feet on both. A wreckless shot on the 15th, where he found water after attempting to hit the green with his driver off the fairway, cost him a bogey, but he made amends two holes later with a birdie on the tough par three 17th hole. O’Hern had actually holed in one on the 17th the previous day during the Pro-Am but sadly the Volkswagen car is only on offer on the tournament days.
But it was on his back nine that O’Hern really made his score. Birdies on the first, third and fourth took him to five under before the burst over the closing three holes took him to the top of the pack.
For Pottier ten years of toil is starting to pay-off as he recorded his lowest round in his first season on The European Tour. The Frenchman, who graduated from the Qualifying School last a decade ago after turning professional, shot a flawless 65 thanks mainly to some inspired putting, the longest of which dropped from some 40 feet.
“I putted very well today,” he said. “The greens are nior easy but I had a good feeling and read them well with the right speed. I felt confident.”
Rodiles started his round in style by chipping in on the tenth, his opening hole, for a birdie. He added a second birdie of the round on the very next hole and never looked back to fire a round of 66.
“I played very solidly,” said the Spaniard. “Made a very good start which helps. The tenth, my first, was probably the hole I played the worst today and I chipped in for birdie from 20 yards. Then birdied the next hole – the par five – and I was off.
“I think this is a very good course. It was so different today after the wind on the two practice days. Today was playing shorter. It was playing good for scoring. If the wind picks up scores won’t be as low.”
No fewer than 12 players share fourth place on five under par including Ryder Cup player Jean Van de Velde, playing his first tournament since the Omega Hong Kong Open last November, and Thongchai Jaidee, the Davidoff Tour Order of Merit leader.
“I wasn’t expecting anything,” said Van de Velde. “But I hit a lot of good shots today. Didn’t hit it that close to start but got better and better coming in. I’m pleased with the result. It is a nice feeling.”
Singapore's Mardan Mamat also carded a 67 to raise local cheers. "I have been practising here for the last three months - about twice a week, every week,” said Mamat. “The boss here at Laguna (Peter Kwee) has been very kind to the local pros so that we can practise for the event. We have been able to use the practise facilities as well. They have been very supportive."
Six times Major Champion Nick Faldo is a further shot back on four under par in his bid to repeat his 1993 success in Singapore. Faldo birdied three of the first four holes but dropped a shot on the par three eighth to reach the turn in 34. A birdie on the 11th was followed by another dropped shot on the 14th but birdies on the 15th and 18th kept him in touch with the leaders.