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Thursday, 18 March 2004
Korean-born New Zealander, Eddie Lee, swept into a three shot lead after the completion of the weather-interrupted first round of the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg, Singapore, 2004.

The 20 year old, who went eagle-birdie in his last two holes played at dusk on Thursday, returned to the course at 8am on Friday to par his final hole for an eight under par 64.

Lee, former winner of the New Zealand and Malaysian Amateur Opens before turning professional in 2002, holed a bunker shot at the seventh (his 16th) and picked up a two at the eighth, before play was halted for the night.

However he said: "I didn't bother me having to come back for one hole. It was getting dark and I didn't want to rush it."

Lee leads by three strokes from Australian Peter Fowler and Thomas Levet of France - the overnight clubhouse leaders - and also Mamat Mardan from the host country, Singapore.

Fowler, now 44 years old, launched his title bid with four straight birdies, stumbled in mid-round, then closed with three more birdies in the last six holes to post his five under par 67, matched soon afterwards by Levet.

“I took the week off last week and needed it” said Fowler, who won the BMW International Open in Munich 11 years ago. “The heat just zapped me in Bangkok and Australia and I took the week off. Frankly it wasn’t enough but I will put everything into this week then take another four weeks off.

“I am trying to have much shorter days at tournaments but that’s hard when you have a considerable amount of work to do. It’s important to conserve your energy.”

Levet, who pushed Ernie Els all the way in the 2002 Open Golf Championship at Muirfield before succumbing in sudden-death, gathered five birdies and dropped only one shot in his 67, hitting the first 14 greens in regulation showing a measure of his consistency.

All told, the 35 year old Parisien missed just two greens and felt at ease with his long game and, for once his putting too. He said: “My game is in good shape and my putting was much more solid than of late. I’ve got no worries about my long game and it’s been a case of being patient and waiting for the putting to come.

“Today I missed from about seven feet at the first and said to myself: ‘Don’t worry, it will come”. Sure enough I holed a couple of nice ones at the fourth and fifth to get into red figures.”

Levet, a two-time winner on The European Tour International Schedule, has his sights raised high for 2004 – a place in the European Ryder Cup Team his principal objective. He added: “That is my big goal. At the moment I am a long way from that and what happens between now and the end of August defends on the big money tournaments. You need to win one and you can take a big step towards The Ryder Cup.”

Ireland’s Peter Lawrie was one of the group of players on 68 following his four under par round on Thursday, and he was joined on Friday morning by fellow countryman, Damien McGrane.

Lawrie, maintaining his fine start to the 2004 campaign, was agitated with his 68, claiming: “It should have been better. I horse-shoed out at the last from five feet but, having said that, I would take four 68s here this week. I hit a lot of good shots and felt very comfortable.”

Colin Montgomerie, bidding to climb into top 50 in the world to claim a berth in The Players Championship in Florida next week, played solidly for 17 holes but bogeyed the last after going into a greenside bunker.

The Scot, currently ranked Number 51 in the world, rued that error and the fact that his play was rewarded with just two birdies. “I hit a poor bunker shot to bogey the last and I’ve done that too many times. I don’t know what it is.”

Defending champion, Lian-Wei Zhang, opened with a level par 72 and was thrilled to learn that he has been invited to become the first Chinese golfer to play in the Masters Tournament at Augusta National next month.

“After playing professional golf for ten years, I never thought I would get this opportunity” said an understandably delighted Zhang. “I am proud to be the first Chinese player to play in the Masters. I’ve watched it on TV many times in the past and now I can’t believe I am actually going to be playing in it.”

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