Australian Tony Carolan and Finland’s Mikko Ilonen lead a jam-packed Ballantine’s Championship first round leaderboard crammed with quality as The European Tour’s first visit to Korea got off to a flying start.
Carolan and Ilonen’s five under par 67s were good enough to separate them from the other 60 players who managed to break par at the Pinx Golf Club, among them the rising American-Korean star Anthony Kim on four under, American Ryder Cup player Chris DiMarco on two under, World Number Five K.J Choi as well as Open Champion Padraig Harrington on one under.
Jeev Milkha Singh, the 2006 Volvo Masters champion, joined Kim, as well as the Irish pair of Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley to bring a truly international flavour to the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship leaderboard.
Ilonen’s bogey free opening score saw him forge into a clubhouse lead that was only tied by Carolan with the very last putt of the day, the Australian signing his scorecard as darkness descended upon the stunning island of Jeju.
Of the leaders, it is fair to say that Carolan had the most eventful day on the golf course. There are not many players who replace their caddie midway through a round, especially after making three birdies in his opening four holes.
“I got off to a good start and made a good two putt par on the first and then birdied three in a row,” said Carolan.
“Then I got a new caddie. I had a local guy on the bag but he was jiggling clubs while we were putting; moving; he had soft spikes on so he wasn't allowed on the greens and it was really worrying me so I just told him to go. I said ‘man, you've got to stay off the greens’. The other caddies were doing too much work.
“I don't think I have ever sacked a caddie during a round before but I think I've been sacked by a caddie though! It was an eventful day but I’m delighted with the score – hopefully we can keep it going tomorrow.”
Ilonen, meanwhile, is hoping to recapture the form that saw him win twice on The European Tour International Schedule this year.
“I got off to a quick start, birdie on the first and good opportunity on the second and made one on the third again, so I was quickly three under,” said Ilonen.
“Then, probably the second toughest hole on the front nine I made a bogey, into the wind, a long hole, the par four. All in all I played solid on the back nine, as well.
“This is the best round I have had for a while - I've made a lot of cuts, but I haven't really played that well. I've been kind of building on something and it's getting a little bit better all the time.
“I've been very patient with my game. It has not been on that level that I was expecting. But I had a long break during Christmas time, so, you know, it's a long season. Plus for the last two weeks, I've been sick, in India and in Malaysia, and played four rounds of golf in both tournaments. But this week, I feel better for the first time in about a month.”