Defending champion Padraig Harrington and two of his victorious Ryder Cup team-mates, David Howell and Miguel Angel Jiménez, made their presence felt in the opening round of the Omega Hong Kong Open after posting rounds of five under par 65 to lie one shot off the lead held by Adam Groom of Australia.
South African Charl Schwartzel also posted a 65 to complete an impressive chasing pack after the first round at Hong Kong Golf Club in the second event on The 2005 European Tour International Schedule.
However, all eyes were on Harrington, the World Number Six and highest ranked player in the field, who, for a third successive year, is looking to make a winning start to his season. Among his highlights were pitches to eight and six feet on the fourth and seventh, before he struck a four iron to ten feet for a closing birdie at the 474 yard ninth, probably the toughest hole on the course.
Harrington won the title with an 11 under par total last year and was delighted not only with setting a pace which, if maintained, will smash that, but also saw him keep a bogey off his card.
"It's no big deal to be leading after the first day, but you want to be there or thereabouts because you can always play yourself out of the tournament on the Thursday," said the Dubliner.
"It's a nice start just to keep the adrenaline and the focus going. The wind was swirling a bit at the end, but I made three of my birdies in the last six holes."
Jiménez, who came close to registering his fifth win of the year in Korea last week, made an good start as he looks to add to his successes in the Far East in Thailand and China during The 2004 European Tour International Schedule. Indeed, the Spaniard’s record in Asia this year is first, sixth, first and second, results which clearly make him one of the favourites in Hong Kong.
"I like it here - nice people, nice weather, nice food," he said.
A spectacular three wood to within 18 inches of the flag on the long 12th to set up an eagle three and a near hole-in-one at the 149 yard second, his 11th, were the highlights of his round.
On Jiménez, Harrington commented: "He's very comfortable with himself. You look at him and he has self-belief in what he's doing, but not in a cocky way. It's what we aspire to and it's good to see."
The other member of the trio, Howell, also posted a bogey free 65, but admitted he "got out of jail" on the ninth.
He was thinking five iron for his second shot, but his caddie recommended a five wood and, according to the Swindon golfer, was "absolutely way out." It went 40 yards past the flag into the trees, but from there he not just saved par, but pitched into the hole for birdie. It completed an inward four under 30.
Groom, 24, who narrowly missed out on earning a European Tour card through the Qualifying School Finals in San Roque, Spain, last month, caught and then passed the three Ryder Cup men by turning in 31 and then picking up three more birdies to reach six under par 64.