Last month Richard McEvoy produced a sterling performance to win the Qualifying School Finals at Emporda Golf Club. Four weeks on, the 24 year old Englishman showed he had lost none of his sparkle when he stormed into the lead after the first round of the Omega Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
Main aim for all Qualifying School graduates every season is to make a fast start to the year on The European Tour and McEvoy, a member of the winning Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in 2001, did just that.
A sensational eight under par round of 62 in the first round of the first counting event on the 2004 Volvo Order of Merit gave McEvoy a four shot lead over fellow Qualifying School graduate Steven O’Hara of Scotland and India’s Amandeep Johl.
It was a scintillating performance from McEvoy, a measure of how good his round was being the fact that of the 45 official Volvo Order of Merit events staged in 2003, the biggest first round lead recorded was only three shots, namely Darren Clarke (Masters Tournament), Raphaël Jacquelin (Nordic Open) and Fredrik Jacobson (Linde German Masters).
The Englishman, who topped the Qualifying School Finals with a 28 under par total of 400 for the six rounds, was quickly on the birdie trail once again with six in his opening 12 holes.
His impressive momentum was halted slightly when he bogeyed the 13th but he immediately recovered with birdies at the 14th and 15th and, fittingly, ended his round in style by rattling in his ninth birdie effort of the day from 15 feet on the final green.
"To start off like that in my rookie year is just amazing," said McEvoy. "It was the putting which did it for me today. I putted great and I just played very solid all day."
Leading the chase after an opening 66 was O’Hara who, like McEvoy, came through the Qualifying School finals (in 13th place) and was a member of the same winning Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in 2001.
The 23 year old Scot started his round at the tenth hole and carded five birdies in total before dropping his only shot of the day at the short eight hole, his 17th of the day.
"I still have a bit of momentum from the Qualifying School as I played pretty well there," said O'Hara. "I'm delighted with my start and as for Richard, I know him pretty well. We practiced a lot together on the Challenge Tour and it will be good for both of us to play well here."
Alongside O’Hara on 66 was Indian golfer Johl who, like the Scot, could have finished closer to McEvoy had it not been for a dropped shot on his final hole, the 410 yard 18th.
Amongst those in a group of eight players tied for fourth place after excellent opening day 67s were three champions from The 2003 European Tour International Schedule, New Zealand’s Michael Campbell, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Lian-Wei Zhang of China.
Campbell, winner of the Nissan Irish Open, recovered from an inauspicious start where he bogeyed the first to finish strongly, birdieing the 16th and 17th, while debutant Harrington, the winner of the BMW Asian Open and the Deutsche Bank – SAP Open TPC of Europe, followed Campbell’s lead with a bogey at the opening hole but he too recovered.
Zhang, winner of the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg, Singapore 2003, had an altogether more sedate opening, his only departures from par being the birdies he attained at the third, 13th and 16th.
Being a co-sanctioned event with the Asian PGA Tour, Zhang’s opening round also gave him hope that he could finish the year top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Going into this, the penultimate event, the Chinese golfer lay in second place behind fellow European Tour Member Arjun Atwal. But with the Indian golfer currently competing in the US PGA Tour Qualifying School, the opportunity is there for Zhang to move into pole position.
A total of 17 golfers finished on two under par 68, among them Darren Clarke, the runner-up to Ernie Els on the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit, and Fredrik Jacobson and José Maria Olazábal, the last two winners of the Omega Hong Kong Open.
Defending champion Jacobson arrived in Hong Kong on a high after his victory in the 2003 season-ending Volvo Masters Andalucia at Club de Golf Valderrama and admitted his 68 will keep him firmly in the hunt.
“I am quite happy,” said the Swede. “I had a tough start, thought I played all right but didn't make any of the chances I had in the beginning. “It didn't happen, but then suddenly I made a bunker shot and a putt from 50 feet and that got me back into it a little bit. I think I am in a good position now. It was nice to get it down to a couple under.
"It was always going to be special this place because I won here for the first time. But it is not exactly the same course that was here last year. It differs quite a bit, and also the conditions. The greens are much firmer this year so I don't think the scores will be as low as last year, so a couple of under leaves me there or thereabouts.”
Like Campbell and Harrington, Olazábal got off to the worst possible start, double-bogeying his opening hole, the 367 yard tenth, but it proved to be his only mistake of the day as he battled hard to get back into red figures.
“The start was pretty bad but I managed to get it back which was good,” said the Spaniard who admitted he had begun work aimed at redesigning his swing.
“I am really pleased, don't get me wrong. They have lengthened the golf course a bit and made it a much tougher test, so anything under par you must be happy with."