Michael Lorenzo-Vera birdied the last at Beijing CBD International Golf Club to break free of the pack and take the early clubhouse lead in the Volvo China Open.
The Frenchman, last year’s Challenge Tour Number One, fired a five under par 67 to edge one stroke ahead of six of the morning starters.
Joost Luiten of The Netherlands, another of last season’s Challenge Tour graduates, was among those on four under par along with the English par of Simon Griffiths and Zane Scotland, Ireland’s Damien McGrane and James Knutzon of the United States, with China’s Li Chao leading the home challenge by also shooting 68 in the event sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour and China Golf Association.
Lorenzo-Vera, the first Frenchman to be crowned Challenge Tour Number One, admitted he has struggled to adjust to the step up to The European Tour but has recently started to relax and enjoy his game. His only mistake during the opening round came at his first hole but he shrugged that off with six birdies without putting another foot wrong in his round.
“I’m very pleased with that,” said the 23 year old. “I have had a few problems with my game so I am just enjoying it. I am making better decisions and it is getting easier. I was making mistakes with the strategy and that is getting much better so I am very happy.”
Lorenzo-Vera admitted to be terrified when he lined up on the range alongside the likes of Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at the HSBC Champions on his first visit to China last November but with the support of fellow Frenchman such as recent winners Gregory Bourdy and Thomas Levet, has started to trust his game and found a calmness on the course.
“I am just learning on the season,” continued Loreonzo-Vera. I like to learn in competition, that’s the best way to learn. We have a very good group, the French caddies and players and they all tell me to be calmer and more confident in my game. When I first came out, I was on the practise and saw Vijay and Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson and I was thinking ‘where is my game?’. I just have to be more confident on what I am doing. That’s what I am trying to do.”
Griffiths, who competes on the Asian Tour but hails from Wentworth Club, produced the shot of the day when, after a terrible drive on the seventh went way right, he managed to cut a five wood 200 yards through the trees and into the hole. That shot, coupled with four birdies helped him to the turn in 29 and he reached seven under par with another birdie at the 11th. But he fell back into the pack with three successive dropped shots in the middle of his back nine.
David Howell was another whose round turned from miraculous to disastrous in the blink of an eye. A remarkable putting performance helped him reach five under par with four to play and even after dropping shots on the sixth and eighth was still in the thick of things. But after two visits to the water on the par five ninth he finished with a triple bogey eighth to finish at level par and five off the lead.
“Five under would have been miraculous, three under great but level is disastrous,” was all Howell could say.