Matthew Baldwin (Getty Images)
Matthew Baldwin insists he is just trying to enjoy life on The European Tour after claiming the first round lead at the Volvo China Open.
The 26 year old Challenge Tour graduate has made a solid start to life on The European Tour, recording a top-ten finish at the Africa Open, finishing 17th in Morocco, as well as making the cut in Sicily and Andalucía.
That has seen the avid Liverpool FC fan climb to 107th on The Race to Dubai, but he could be set to improve on that significantly after a seven under par 65 gave him a one shot lead at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
“It was very good today so I am happy with that,” he said.
“This is not the lowest round of my Tour career – I shot nine under at East London Club in South Africa earlier in the season but this would be the second lowest.
“I have been playing well for the past three events really and I am just trying to enjoy the experience of being on Tour for the first time. I played on the Challenge Tour last year and didn’t know what to expect out here but it is better than I expected because there is just so much going on at the tournaments.
“I just tried to keep everything as simple as I could. My caddie and I set out this morning with a game plan of trying to make 18 pars and take our chances when they came and it turned out to be one of those days where there were a lot of chances and I managed to take a few of them.”
Baldwin, who won the Fred Olsen Challenge de España on The Challenge Tour last season as he finished tenth in the rankings, had six birdies in his first 11 holes before an approach to six feet at the penultimate hole brought him his seventh gain.
Six players are tied for second on six under, and like Baldwin five of them featured in the morning session as the wind strengthened through the day in Tianjin.
Only South African Jbe Kruger, a recent winner at the Avantha Masters, managed to dent the leaderboard in the afternoon as the diminutive 25 year old produced a bogey free round.
His 66 was matched by Swede Fredrik Andersson-Hed, Baldwin’s compatriot Gary Boyd, France’s Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, Dutchman Joost Luiten and Australian Scott Strange.
Luiten, whose first European Tour victory came last year in Malaysia, started with a hattrick of birdies from the tenth, and, after a double bogey at the fourth, finished with three gains in his last four holes.
“I want to get out there and attack and win golf tournaments,” he said. “After winning last year for the first time I just want it more and more because I know how good that feeling is.”
Strange, winner of this event in 2009, lost his card at the end of last season but put himself into contention with a bogey-free round.
He said: “It’s nice to shoot 66 – first time I have broken 70 for a while!
“I have been away from the golf course for a while. Things change in life and people become parents and your priorities change and all of a sudden golf just wasn’t that important to me for a while. But once you figure things and get back to the golf and make it a priority again then, hopefully the good results will come.”
Andersson-Hed, a former Italian Open champion, did most of his good work on the back nine with five birdies as he reached the turn in 31.
“I played decent and putted fantastically,” he said. “I had one three-putt today but apart from that I don’t think I have ever putted that well. Maybe the third round in Italy a couple of years ago when I won but today I holed a lot of long ones so this is even better.
“The longest was about 30 feet on 17 but there were a few from between 12-20 feet. I had been struggling on the greens at the start of the year but I had a meeting with my coaches and we tried to steer it back in the right direction. It didn’t really work out last week but hopefully I am going the right way now.”
Boyd, still seeking a first European Tour win after two runner-up finishes in his three seasons on Tour, had an eagle at the long 12th as well as a solitary bogey and five birdies, chipping in for a four at the par five 18th.
“I am usually a very slow starter but there have been encouraging signs recently,” said the 25 year old. “I went back to see my old coach a few weeks ago to see what thoughts he had on the state of my game and I have done some good practice at home on the back of that. Then to come out to Asia and play well last week and make a good start this week is good.”
England’s Paul Casey continued his comeback from a snowboarding injury with a four under par 68, the same score as former Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie and defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts.
Australian Marcus Fraser was part of the group on five under, and while the 33 year old was ten shots better than his playing partner, there was no hiding his admiration for the performance of 13 year old Guan Tian-lang – who became the youngest player in European Tour history.
“I couldn’t believe I was playing with a 13 year old – I am old enough to be his dad,” said Fraser. “It’s pretty scary actually – I thought I was still quite young.
“He was very impressive for someone who is 13 and a half years old. He hits it long off the tee and hits a lot of very good shots.
“His putting is good and he has good routines. You can see he is very competitive too which you need to be. If he keeps on the path he is on then he can be a great player.
“To be that age and be able to play at this level is amazing. I felt lucky to be out there with him because if he keeps going he will be in the top ten in the world pretty comfortably.
“He is very mature, very driven but he is not being pushed into by his parents – he wants to go out there and play and improve and that is the main thing. A lot of kids get pushed into things but that is not the case here. He really wants it and it is pretty cool to see that in someone so young.”