KJ Choi gave himself the ideal platform to build his assault on his second European Tour International Schedule title when he moved into the lead after the first round of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
The 39 year old, who created history when he became the first Korean golfer to win on The European Tour when he claimed the 2003 German Masters, opened with a superb eight under par 62 at the Hong Kong Golf Club to lead the way by a shot from Welshman Garry Houston.
On a day where scoring was as hot as the sunshine which blessed the Fanling venue, two Swedes were next in the pecking order – Robert Karlsson and Fredrik Andersson Hed both opening with six under par 64s – but the first day was all about Choi.
The man who is nicknamed The Tank showed exactly why as he steamrollered the course into submission with nine birdies in total – including five in a row from the 12th – to more than offset his only bogey of the day which came at the testing 474 yard par four ninth hole.
“It’s the first time I’ve shot 62 here, so I’m very happy,” he said. “I expected the greens to be softer so that helped as well. A lot of players had a tough time reading the lines, but I was quite comfortable out there and my putting was solid throughout the round.
“I started getting my rhythm on the tenth hole and after that I was very comfortable with my strokes. I parred the 11th and then I had a good birdie on the 12th hole and I felt like I was getting back in the groove again. The greens in Houston are similar to the ones here, bermuda greens, and it was great teamwork too with my caddie, Rusty Uresti.”
Second placed Houston – who missed the cut in three of his last four events of 2007 and retired from the other one, the Open de Madrid Valle Romano – put his improvement down to two things, a lesson from Thomas Björn during a practice round in Hong Kong and a strict diet which has seen him shed almost a stone in weight in six weeks.
“I played on Tuesday with Thomas in practice and he gave me a couple of tips that I haven’t been doing and I took it out today and it got me round so I should really thank him for that, “ said the Welshman whose round contained eight birdies in total and only one bogey, at his final hole, the ninth, where he three putted.
“It was a little trigger really where my weight was going into my right leg on the backswing. I couldn’t feel it but he could spot it. I cost him money so I suppose it was good of him to try and help me out!
“As for the fitness thing, it’s not so much the gym with me, it is more what I eat. I am not getting any younger, I’m 36, and I’ve been on Tour now for about six years and I think if I want any longevity, I have got to become a bit more health conscious.
“Just generally if I go to a restaurant I won’t have what I used to have, which might not have been a lot but it might just have been at the wrong time. I’m not a big gym goer, I can’t buy into that, but I am just trying to eat better and at the right times.
“I’ve realised it for years but you just never do anything about it do you? I’m just trying to do something about it now. Everybody says you’d be much better if you’re fitter but Monty isn’t that much better now is he that’s he’s lost all that weight – ten years ago he was brilliant wasn’t he?
“I don’t drink so that is one thing I don’t do, smoking is my only vice. But it is difficult given our lifestyle. Like today for example I had breakfast late because I was playing at 11.25am and by the time I get to the hotel now it is going to be six or seven o’clock. I’ll have to eat there but then I’ll have to be up and 4am tomorrow as I’m off at 6.55am. So it is difficult to eat at the right times and space your meals out. But other guys manage to do it, so I should too.”
Sharing third place were Swedes Robert Karlsson and Fredrik Andersson Hed who both opened with steady 64s, Karlsson in particular pleasantly surprised to be up at the business end of the tournament as he admitted it was a course he had not enjoyed much success on in the past.
“I’ve actually tried to avoid this tournament in the past because I’ve done so badly,” said the Ryder Cup player. “But I played two Pro-Ams this week, Monday and Wednesday and I really tried to almost play them as a tournament round and see what I had to do differently to get my way round this golf course.
“I just tried to find the keys and I ended up being a lot more conservative off the tees, hitting a lot more irons, and I only used my driver twice today, two or three three woods and the rest were two irons, so I was trying to keep the ball in play and have fun out there.
“I had a couple of good saves out there too as well as not dropping any shots, I hit it into the left bunker on the fifth and it was pretty badly plugged and I hit an excellent bunker shot to save par and that, and another par save on the sixth were pretty important. That helps keep the round going so it was a pretty good all round effort.”
Andersson Hed, who started with four birdies on the trot in his round, was equally as pleased with his opening effort.
“I’m very happy with that,” he admitted. “I got off to a great start and I kept playing really solidly after that. It seems like the course is starting to firm up a little bit and from what I can remember from when I was here before, it certainly firms up for the weekend.”
|1||JIMÉNEZ, Miguel Angel||ESP||18||-15|
|T2||CHOI, K J||KOR||18||-14|