Australia's Gavin Flint moved into an early two-shot lead at the US$4 million Singapore Open yesterday, birdying the final two holes of his first round to complete a five-under-par 66.
Teeing off in the third group of the morning in benign conditions, Flint shot five birdies in a bogey-free round to move away from American world No. 2 Phil Mickelson and South Korea's K.J. Choi, who share second place after matching 68s.
Australia's Adam Scott, seeking a hat-trick of titles here this week, enjoyed a solid start, the world No. 6 ending his round in a share of 10th place after a one-under 70 on the demanding Serapong Course.
Fiji's Vijay Singh also shot 70, while hopes of a local victory were dashed when Singapore's leading player Mardan Mamat was disqualified after he signed for a three-under 68 instead of 69.
Asian Tour player Flint was delighted with his morning's work.
"I hit the ball and putted really well today," the 26-year-old told reporters after two sublime approach shots on the closing holes set up the back-to-back birdies.
"There are four or five really strong holes that you must have good tee shots on. I was able to do that, which is probably the key to going low on this course," Flint said.
Playing in Asia for the first time, Mickelson led at the turn before a double-bogey six on the third (his 12th) and some erratic driving stalled his charge.
"The fairways are tight from tee to green," the 37-year-old said. "I was lucky to escape with a three-under. If I can get my driver and three-wood turned around, I should enjoy three good remaining days."
"It's a good test of golf. I am not surprised about that because I knew we were going to be tested here," Mickelson said.
South Africa's Ernie Els, US Open champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Britain's Lee Westwood were among those teeing off in the afternoon.
Mickelson said he has been amazed at the number of talented golfers in Asia, singling out Thailand's Chapchai Nirat as someone who could easily play in the US.
The American is on his first foray to the region and admits that he knew little about the standards here before his arrival.
But he says his eyes have been opened.
"I didn't realize how many good players there are here in Asia. But I've noticed it on the putting green, I've noticed it on the driving range and today with Chapchai," said Mickelson, who partnered the Thai yesterday.
Mickelson shot a three-under 68 in the first round while Chapchai fired a one-under 70.
"He is a world-class player. He could easily play the US PGA Tour and do very well. In fact, he should be playing in the World Golf Championships and the Majors, I feel, because he is so talented," the 37-year-old said.
"There have been a number of players here like that who have impressed me and I think sometimes as golf has become so global, we haven't been aware how good golf is here in Asia. Some of these players are incredibly strong," Mickelson said.
Chapchai, 24, made his breakthrough by winning the European and Asian Tour co-sanctioned TCL Classic in China this year, and is one of a number of Thais who have emerged in recent years.
"I was very impressed with him as a player. He was very solid, he hits the ball a long way, is very good off the tee and hit some wonderful iron shots," Mickelson said. "He played better than his score and he still shot under par."