Thursday, 22 November 2007

Americans Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley made their Thanksgiving Day celebrations taste that little bit sweeter by capturing the first round lead in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup with an 11 under par 61 in the opening series of fourballs at Mission Hills Golf Club.

There wasn’t any turkey in sight to make the occasion more memorable, but the United States pair served up a feast of outstanding golf over the Olazábal course to take a one stroke lead over defending champions Germany and no fewer than six nations.

It all makes for an exciting and invigorating concoction at the top of the leaderboard going into the second round foursomes, when the alternate shot format tends to separate the men from the boys.

A month ago, Weekley was hunting for deer when he received the call to represent his country and in turn placed the phone call to invite long-time buddy, Slocum, to be his running mate at Mission Hills.

In the first round, the Americans went hunting for creatures of a different variety and were amply rewarded with seven birdies and two eagles on a day when the fourball format and glorious weather conspired to produce some breathtaking shot-making.

England’s Ian Poulter certainly underlined the point when he chipped in for an eagle at the ninth and holed a short putt for another eagle at the 11th as he and Justin Rose shot an opening 63 to join Finland, Wales, South Africa, Scotland and Thailand on 63, one behind Germany.

The defending champions, represented this time by the experienced Alex Cejka and 2007 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, Martin Kaymer, carried on where Bernhard Langer and Marcel Siem left off in Barbados in 2006.

Meanwhile Weekley and Slocum shot down the myth that the United States are fielding a weakened side this week in China. Slocum said: “It was fun out there watching Boo play very well. I hit a few good shots but to be honest I was cheering him a lot.”

Weekley said modestly: “I got fortunate today. My putter got hot and I made some putts. I hope we can keep going forward from here. I didn’t know anything about it (criticism of the team). I thought they sent the best team!”

He added: “I was teary-eyed when I got the call to play in China, representing my country. To us it’s like the Olympics. It’s a dream for me to play in this.”

Late in the day, the Germans compiled a ten under par score to show their determination to hang onto the title. Kaymer, making his debut in the event, commented; “It was just an awesome experience. It was a lot of fun to play with China, as host nation, and the fact that the biggest crowds were following us.”

Poulter’s double-eagle burst just before and after the turn ensured that the pre-event favourites are right in the hunt after one round. Rose admitted that Poulter’s pair of threes had “really salvaged the day” and that the foursomes will be a real test of character.

“We knew it was going to be a bunched leaderboard in this format” added Rose. “Howeveri n foursomes the pressure is on over every shot.”

Wales, who won the World Cup in Portugal two years ago, discovered that ‘friends reunited’ had the desired effect. Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge, the winning combination in 2005, came flying out of the blocks to join the log-jam on 63 while South Africans Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman showed their experience of having the title with different partners in the past.

Last year’s runners-up Scotland, like Dodd and Dredge, showed the benefit of continuity with Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren making a solid start of 63, two ahead of local favourites China.


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