On a course which demands accuracy, one of the straightest hitters on The European Tour, Peter O’Malley, took the first round lead in the BMW Asian Open after a five under par 67 at Tomson Shanghai Golf Club.
The Australian’s driving was as straight as always and he hit only one wayward approach which necessitated a chip as he edged past the impressive quartet at four under par of Mikko Ilonen, Jeev Milkha Singh, Henrik Stenson and Oliver Wilson.
O’Malley has long been regarded as one most accurate players on The European Tour, highlighted by his prominence in the Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation categories in the Genworth Financial Statistics, and Tomson Shanghai Golf Club, with its narrow landing areas amongst the trees, leaves no room for error. O’Malley arrived in China last week after a six week break and although he was a little rusty in Beijing and missed the cut, found the right groove this week after a slight change in his set up.
“Today I drove the ball beautifully,” he said. “I had one green where I had to chip to and missed two more by a foot on the fringe. So my iron play was great as well and I couldn’t find any fault with that.
“I have played well here the last three years and I enjoy it. There is certainly a premium on accuracy off the tee and the ball is rolling too so it is not playing as long as it can. On the fairways, you couldn’t ask for a better playing surface so the course is well suited to me game.”
O’Malley last won on The European Tour seven years ago, at the English Open in 2001, and has again set himself the goal of winning on The European Tour. This week’s BMW Asian Open, the 50th event to be jointly sanctioned by The European Tour and the Asian Tour, would be a good place to get back into the winners’ enclosure.
“Every year I have a goal to win a tournament in Europe and Australia and a goal of getting into the top 50 in the World Rankings,” said O’Malley. “That is my goal every year. I haven’t done it for a number of years. To do that I have to win and I haven’t won in Europe for seven years so that is my goal this season.”
O’Malley has a formidable chasing pack on his tail, led by World Number 13 Henrik Stenson, who will go back to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit with a high finish in Shanghai.
Stenson is one of the longest players in the game but his power was reined in as he used his driver only once, preferring his more accurate three wood instead. The Swede made a fast start with four birdies in his first seven holes before a three putt on the 17th, his eighth, for bogey slowed his momentum. He dropped another stroke at the par three third before a par saving putt on the fourth put a spring back in his step, however, and he finished strongly with birdies at the fifth and ninth.
“It wasn’t a problem not hitting my driver as I can hit my three wood instead and feel confident with that,” said Stenson. “My driving hasn’t been great the last couple of weeks so I don’t mind taking it out of play on a couple of occasions. I feel my game is moving in the right direction and hopefully I can use it two or three times when I need to.”
Wilson claimed his fifth runners-up finish last week and is back challenging once again, opening with a four under par 68. Four of Wilson’s second places have come in the last 14 months and it seems only a matter of time before the door finally opens for the Englishman.
“I just have to keep doing what I am doing and keep giving myself opportunities,” said Wilson. “The more I get up there it is going to happen. Last week I played great for three days and just didn’t hole enough putts at the weekend. I played okay on Sunday and played a lot of nice shots but didn’t putt well enough in the weather. Not every time you finish second do you have a chance of winning. Sometimes I have come through the pack and finished second which is great. I have been in contention a few times now and I am ready to win. Just need a bit of luck here and there and if your short game is in shape hopefully won’t be too far away.”
Wilson was playing alongside Ilonen, winner of two events last season, who catapulted his way to four under by holing a lob wedge on the seventh, his 16th.
“I didn’t hit that many quality shots out there today,” admitted Ilonen. “But my misses seemed to be in the right spots all the time. I had some long birdie putts and managed to two putt on a lot of greens and made one eagle which made my day.”
Singh was saved by his putting as shrugged off a bit of rust to card an opening 68 in his first appearance since the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
“Honestly, I love this golf course,” said Singh. “It suits my game although I didn’t hit the ball well today. But my putting was excellent. I took 22 or 24 putts today. Last week was off for me and I didn’t practice much and it showed up today. But I’ve got this afternoon to work on my game. My short game was really good.”
Greg Norman, playing his first European Tour event of the year, was among those who came in under par with a score of 71, matched by his playing partner Darren Clarke and China’s Number One Liang Wen-chong although the honour of finishing the day as the top home player went to Zhang Lian-wei after a two under par 70.