Amandeep Johl made a bold start in his bid to become only the second Indian winner on The European Tour International Schedule when he shot a six under par 63 to take a one shot lead after the first round of the Omega Hong Kong Open at Hong Kong Golf Club.
The 33 year old from New Delhi made six birdies and an eagle to move a stroke clear of a quartet of players in Mexico’s Pablo del Olmo, Stephen Dodd of Wales, Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe and Sweden’s Henrik Nystrom. They in turn were one clear of nine players grouped on 65, including South African James Kingston who enjoyed the rare luxury of an albatross two at the ninth.
Johl, a regular on the Davidoff Tour and 214th on last season's Volvo Order of Merit, fired his six under par 63 on a day when players struggled to make the kind of impact that had been expected over the shortened par 69 course
Johl ended the day satisfied with his one shot lead and a five stroke advantage over the player who captured the Johnnie Walker Classic over the Fanling course in 1990, England’s six time Major Champion, Nick Faldo.
On a cool, damp day Johl was one of only a handful to take full advantage as he attempted to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Arjun Atwal, who won last season’s Caltex Singapore Masters to become the first Indian champion on The European Tour.
Moving along steadily at one under after eight, Johl's round ignited with an eagle at the ninth, and he followed it with four birdies in five holes before a late bogey at the 17th inhibited his progress.
Johl has not won on the Davidoff Tour before and has a best finish of third place. He said: "My round was very patchy. I played good in the middle, from the ninth to the 15th. Before the ninth I was scrambling around making pars. My putting was absolutely fantastic today."
"I have been working on my putting. I have been reading this book from Bob Rotella so that has really helped. Today, I tried hard to keep out of my way. I had a few long putts," added Johl.
The pressure of leading such a big tournament is not something that Johl is used to, particularly when the television cameras are rolling."I battled hard as I am not used to the television guys running around. It's so easy to lose your concentration. I am not used to it and suddenly these guys start moving all over the place," said Johl, whose wife Hardavin is caddieing for him.
Dodd, 104th on the Volvo Order of Merit in 2002, packaged seven birdies into his round, which was highlighted by an outward nine of 30 while Johnstone and Nystrom also threatened Johl’s position at the top but the Swede was undone by a bogey at the last for a 64.
European Tour winner Johnstone is coming off his most frustrating season of his career but after finishing in the top 20 last week in Taiwan he is looking to turn things around.
He said: "It was a nice start. I hit some iron shots close. The course is not suited for me as the fairways are a bit too wide for a medium length accurate hitter. I was hitting the irons really close and putted really close.
"I have had the worse year of my career this year. I have had an absolutely horrendous year. All sorts of things went wrong with my brother passing away. Just when I started to get back into things I got a virus," added the Zimbabwean.
Of the group on 65, which included Open Championship runner-up Thomas Levet of France, Kingston’s round was the most eventful by a considerable distance. Reaching the ninth tee – his 17th – the South African was back in the pack at one under par, but two mighty blows later he was in the clubhouse on four under after bagging that rarest of ‘birds’, the albatross.
Defending champion José Maria Olazábal looked to have rediscovered the form which gave him the title last year when, after starting at the tenth, he birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th. But four bogeys in five holes from the 18th meant he finished with a level par 69.
The first round was notable for including the youngest player ever to play a European Tour event. Chinese Taipei amateur Lo Shih-Kai, at just 13, beats Sergio Garcia to the honour by two years. The Spaniard competed in the Turespana Masters in 1995 when just 15. However the youngster finished with a four over par 73.