Larrazabal and Liang lead the way

4/15/2010 7:17:57 AM
Liang Wen-chong  (Getty Images)
Liang Wen-chong (Getty Images)
Spain's Pablo Larrazabal and Chinese Number One Liang Wen-chong established a one shot lead midway through the first round of the Volvo China Open after defying cold and windy conditions at Suzhou Jinji Lake Golf Club to card six under par rounds of 66.

Damien McGrane finished with three birdies in five holes to head the chasing pack after a bogey free five under 67 from the 2008 champion.

US PGA Championship winner Y E Yang, fresh from his eighth-place finish at the Masters Tournament last week, Finland's Mikko Ilonen and Swede Henrik Stenson sit a further shot off the pace with Oliver Wilson, Graeme Storm, Alastair Forsyth, Maybank Malaysian Open champion Noh Seung-yul and Chinese amateur Hu Mu in touch at three under.

With older brother and former British Amateur champion Alejandro on the bag, 2008 European Tour rookie of the year Larrazabal made his move with a "perfect" front nine after picking up five birdies in a bogey free trip around the wetlands layout.

The 2008 Open de France champion eased off for the undulating and bunkered links set up of the back nine and made just two further gains against a solitary bogey.

He said: "I played solid. I didn't sleep too much, only three hours last night as I was suffering a bit from jet lag.

"I was up at 1am so when I teed off at 6.40am it felt like 10am, so I felt very awake.

"I played very solid on the front nine and then I was a bit rough on the back nine, but it was great.

"I played perfect on the front nine and missed just one putt for birdie. But I missed the drive on the tenth into the bunker. Those bunkers are like links bunkers in Scotland, but I saved par.

"I then missed a five foot putt for birdie at 12 which would have put me at six under. I was not angry but disappointed, and then made bogey at 13. I tried to be calm and I made birdie at the next par five then birdied 17 before making a great save at 18."

Liang opened with a hat-trick of birdies after starting on the links layout of the back nine and added two more gains before dropping the only bogey of his opening circuit at the ninth, where he three putted from 45 feet as a three foot par putt lipped out to see him reach the turn at four under.

But birdies at the third and fifth quickly followed to raise local hopes of the former Asian Number One becoming only the third Chinese winner of the Volvo China Open following Cheng Jun in 1997 and Zhang Lian-wei in 2003.

"I feel relaxed when I play in China, more so than when I play abroad," said the 31 year old Liang, who also won the Midea China Classic last October.

"For the past couple of years, I've also been really developing my game and my swing with my coach, so I'm generally playing pretty solidly everywhere I play now.

"I've developed a strong mental game as well. However, today the good start really helped launch my round and gave me the confidence to play well."