South Korea's K.J. Choi stormed into the lead at the UBS Hong Kong Open yesterday, firing an eight-under first round of 62 to take a slender advantage over a star-studded field.
The world No. 12 lived up to his billing as favorite for the US$2.25 million tournament with nine birdies, including five in succession from the 12th.
A bogey at the ninth was the only blemish in an otherwise flawless display that left him one shot ahead of Welshman Garry Houston, who had eight birdies and a bogey in his 63.
Choi has had a breakthrough year, winning twice in the US, but after shooting yesterday's low score he admitted that nothing would please him more than victory in Hong Kong.
"I have a lot of fans here. Playing really well in front of them makes me very happy," he said.
Choi was briefly joined at the top of the leaderboard by Houston but a bogey at the last saw the Welshman fall back.
On a day of low scoring Sweden's Robert Karlsson and Fredrik Andersson Hed hit matching rounds of 64 to set the early clubhouse target before Choi's back-nine surge propelled him up the leaderboard.
South Korea's Kang Wook-soon, the last Asian winner of this tournament, enjoyed a good day, hitting a 65.
"My putting today was spot on. I holed almost everything within 11 yards, so overall I am very pleased with my round," said Kang, whose score was matched by Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Scotland's Barry Hume.
Australia's Scott Strange and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Chapchai Norat are one shot further adrift.
Thongchai, who was playing with Karlsson, matched the Swede for most of the day but two bogeys in the last three holes saw him slip back. China's top player Liang Wen-chong is also in contention after a two-under round of 68.
Among the biggest names here, South Africa's Retief Goosen and Canada's Mike Weir, with three Majors between them, both hit 69 to lie seven off the lead.