Birthday boy Ernie Els of South Africa struck a par-71 to lie three shots behind the leaders after the first round of the Venetian Macau Open yesterday.
The Big Easy found himself four-over through his opening seven holes, but later hit four birdies to make his birthday cake taste sweeter.
Australia’s Scott Barr shared the lead in the US$800,000 Asia Tour tournament with Ben Campbell of New Zealand and Finland’s Kalle Samooja.
Barr, 41, produced a measured performance at the Macau Golf and Country Club, shooting four birdies against a lone bogey to set the early pace while Campbell shot the tournament’s first hole-in-one.
Els, who turned 44, said after the day’s play: “I have to be happy with that. It was a tough start. It’s still blowing now.”
“I started hitting some nice shots, made a little adjustment with my putter and made some three or four footers. All in all, it’s not a bad day,” he said. “It’s a demanding course. When you’re off, you’re going to make big numbers.”
“I always love coming here. It’s a wonderful place in the world to come play golf. I’ve seen the [Asian] Tour grow nicely and there are so many great players now,” Els said. “Golf is such an exciting sport in Asia and you just want to be part of it.”
Taiwan’s Hung Chien-yao, Lu Wei-chih, Chan Yih-shin and Lu Wen-teh were among a group of players tied for 10th on 1-under, while compatriot Tsai Chi-huang was level with Els in joint-22nd.
Additional reporting by staff writer
Peter Hedblom made a solid start in the quest to retain his European Tour card for next season by taking a share of the lead after the first round of the co-sanctioned Perth International yesterday.
The 43-year-old Swede is currently languishing in 179th spot in the Race to Dubai and needs to win the tournament to climb into the top 110 and avoid going back to Qualifying School.
Hedblom, who has three tour wins, carded a four-under-par 68 to form part of a four-man group at the top of the leaderboard with South Korea’s Jin Jeong and Australian duo James Nitties and Clint Rice.
“It was an interesting day. The game didn’t feel that good, but I kept the ball in the fairways,” Hedblom told reporters after mixing six birdies with two bogeys at the Lake Karrinyup Country Club.