Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez has a lot of work to do if he is to clinch a record-equaling fourth Hong Kong Open after a disappointing opening round yesterday.
The Spanish veteran signed for a level-par 70, one shot better than China’s teenage prodigy Guan Tianlang, but six strokes behind the early leader — journeyman David Higgins of Ireland.
Jimenez, 49, put together a mixed round, which saw four bogeys cancel out four birdies while 15-year-old Guan collapsed to a one-over-par 71 after a blistering start which saw him hold the lead for much of the morning’s play.
Jimenez was the pre-tournament favorite to win the US$1.3 million co-sanctioned European Tour and Asian Tour event due to being the highest-ranked player at 48 in the world to be competing.
A lack of big names means the Spaniard has a great chance to break his own record, set last year, as the oldest winner on the European Tour and to match Hsieh Yung-yo of Taiwan’s four wins in the southern Chinese city.
However, he got his title defense off to a poor start with a bogey at the second before bouncing back immediately with birdies at the third and fourth.
Another birdie at seven on the famous Fanling course took him to two-under, but he dropped a shot on the eighth to go out in one-under-par 33.
His shot of the day came on the ninth, where after a pulled drive he hit a low raking hook which somehow crept onto the front of the green. Buoyed, the winner of 19 European Tour titles then picked up a stroke on the 13th, but found water at 15, before missing a short putt on the 18th to finish level par.
Earlier, Guan — who caused a stir at the US Masters this year when he became the youngest player to make the cut in a major — made a sensational start, completing his opening 13 holes without dropping a shot.
Along the way, he picked up five birdies to lead the field at the Hong Kong Golf Club, but was undone by three consecutive bogeys and a costly triple-bogey on the ninth — the penultimate hole of his first round.
Higgins’ 64 leaves him one shot clear of Italy’s Andrea Pavan going into today’s second round. Seven players were tied in third on four-under, including Thailand’s Prom Meesawat.