Raphael Jacquelin (Getty Images)
Two form players shared the clubhouse lead at the Volvo China Open as Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Raphaël Jacquelin carded matching rounds of 68 at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
Thailand’s Aphibarnrat, who won his maiden European Tour title at the Maybank Malaysian Open in March, carded five birdies and a solitary bogey in his round including a ten foot effort at the sixth – his 15th.
“I still have a lot of confidence from how I played last week (at the Ballantine’s Championship), and obviously from Malaysia,” he said.
“I have played well for three or four weeks in a row now, and will try to finish high up the leaderboard again this week. In this type of wind you don't know how you will do, but I’ll just try to do my best.”
Jacquelin won last month’s Open de España after a marathon nine-hole play-off and had four birdies in his blemish-free round.
The 38 year old had a strong finish to thank for his score as he holed a 20 footer to save par at the seventh before holing from 35 feet at the eighth and 12 feet at the ninth – his last.
“It’s a great start, any time you have no bogeys and four birdies, it’s always a good day,” said the Frenchman.
“The wind’s picking up now, so we were lucky to play seven or eight holes without much wind. The course gives you a few birdie chances, but there were some holes – like the fourth, ninth and 17th – which were playing really long into the wind.
“I’m playing really well at the moment. Obviously my win in Spain was amazing, and I guess it was always going to be heard to keep the same high level in Korea last week.”
At four under par the pair led by one from Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, Korea’s Park Sang-hyun, England’s Lee Slattery and Australian Aaron Townsend.
On the course, in-form Portuguese star Ricardo Santos was three under through seven, while Dane JB Hansen was on the same mark after a remarkable start that saw him hole his second shot at the par four opener and birdie the next.
The European Tour’s new youngest player, 12 year old Ye Wo-cheng, carded a seven under par 79, but 16 year old Dou Ze-cheng signed for an impressive two under par 70.
“I was bit nervous at the start, had a bogey on the third but then came back really well with four birdies,” said Dou. “This is obviously by far the biggest event I have ever entered, so I am very excited to be part of it.”
Santos and Hansen could not maintain their fine starts and both slipped back to one under, but last week’s Ballantine’s Championship winner Brett Rumford set off for home with consecutive birdies to take up the chase on three under.