Bain, trying to rid his under-achiever tag, enjoyed a spectacular front nine at Pine Valley Golf Club to turn in 31 before settling for six-under-par 66 in the Asian Tour event. Along with the morning session players, Bain enjoyed the better half of the weather as the skies opened up in the afternoon with continuous rain.
Young Australian duo Adam Groom and Richard Moir produced matching 67s for tied second place with Zhang, Scotsman Simon Yates, Welsh star Phillip Price and South African Keith Horne bunched a further shot back.
“I think I’ve been on the verge of (big) things in the past,” said the 28-year-old Bain. “I kind of see my career as being up and down in Asia. I finished second behind Thongchai (Jaidee) in India a few years ago so hopefully, I can go one better and get my first win in Asia.”
Playing in benign conditions in the morning, Bain rolled in a 30-foot birdie on his first hole of the day, at the 10th, and nailed a four iron to eight feet for eagle on 13 as he got out of first gear effortlessly. “That eagle was nice and it helped my round. I then birdied 16 which was good as it’s the longest on the course. I gave myself a lot of opportunities but at the turn, I hit some sloppy shots for three bogeys but all in all, it was a good day,” said Bain.
Zhang, who made his US Masters debut earlier this month, was not a happy man after dropping a bogey on his last hole following a wayward drive. But he was more bemused with the fact that he was stopped twice by security personnel, who didn’t recognise who he was, when the Chinese number one was entering the men’s locker room before starting his round.
“I’m really disappointed to bogey the last hole. I drove well all day except for the last but I’ll take a four-under start,” said Zhang, whose highlight of the day was an eagle on the par five second hole.
Groom was flawless with a bogey-free card. A birdie on the second hole set him on the way and he rolled in further putts on the fifth, eighth, 10th and 17th to make his way up the Volskwagen Masters – China leaderboard.
The 25-year-old Aussie is looking to capitalise on his first visit to the Middle Kingdom and took time off on Wednesday to visit the Great Wall of China. “It was great, I really enjoyed that visit,” said Groom, who represented Australia during his amateur days.
He stroked the ball beautifully on the superb putting surfaces at Pine Valley, needing only 28 putts. “The score could have been better as I hit a lot of good shots. The conditions were perfect for scoring and I putted good,” said Groom.
Ryder Cup player Price lived up to his star billing at the Volkswagen Masters – China as he began his campaign with a 68. He signed for six birdies and declared himself pleased with his start.
“I played quite well today with six birdies and two bogeys. I drove the ball really solid. It was quite easy this morning as it wasn’t windy. It’s nice to shoot a good score on the first day and get into position,” said Price, 10th on last year’s European Order of Merit.
England’s six-time Major champion Nick Faldo salvaged his round with a superb comeback. Playing alongside Zhang and starting from the back nine, he fell to two over par with bogeys on 12 and 15 but he recovered at the turn with three birdies to return a 71.
“It was very demoralising on the front nine. Lucky the back nine was a bit better, otherwise it would have been a disaster. I was struggling to do what I wanted to do. I made some bad decisions and made life difficult for myself. I struggled with my putting which is a norm at the moment. It was hard work.
“I hit a good wedge to 10 feet on the first for birdie and then hit a two iron on the par five second hole for another birdie. On the seventh, I hit a good eight iron to 10 feet and made that. It was a big help to get to under par, I needed that boost,” said Faldo.
If the English star wasn’t relishing his outward nine, the afternoon session players had to deal with persistent rain and chilly conditions. Horne, a rookie in Asia, was one of the very few players to shoot a good round in the afternoon with his bogey-free 68 to be in the chasing pack.
Leading first round scores
66 – Ross Bain (SCO)
67 – Adam Groom (AUS), Richard Moir (AUS)
68 – Phillip Price (WAL), Zhang Lian-wei (CHN), Simon Yates (SCO), Keith Horne (RSA)
69 – Rahil Gangjee (IND), Rick Gibson (CAN), Marcus Both (AUS), Chris Williams (RSA), Jason Knutzon (USA), Gary Rusnak (USA), Chawalit Plaphol (THA), P. Gunasegaran (MAS)
70 – Greg Hanrahan (USA), Kyi Hla Han (MYN), Anthony Kang (USA), Kang Wook-soon (KOR), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Carito Villaroman (PHI), Olle Nordberg (SWE), Kim Felton (AUS), Sushi Ishigaki (JPN), Mo Joong-kyung (KOR), David Hearn (CAN), Akinori Tani (JPN)
71 – Boonchu Ruangkit (THA), Nick Faldo (ENG), Alistair Presnell (AUS)