Hong Kong, December 8: Thai veteran star Thongchai Jaidee, Filipino swinger Juvic Pagunsan and Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh were Asia’s top performers with three-under-par 67s as the trio ended the first round of the US$2 million UBS Hong Kong Open three shots back of Spanish high-flier Rafa Cabrera Bello on Thursday.
Cabrera Bello sensationally eagled his last hole from the fairway to grab a one-shot lead from Frenchman Sebastien Gros following a stellar six-under-par 64, spinning a wedge approach from 99 yards into the 10th hole at the Hong Kong Golf Club. Players start their rounds from either the first or 11th tee for the opening two days.
Gros sank five birdies for second place, followed by a large group of players on 66, who include 2014 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner David Lipsky of the United States, American Paul Peterson, Australian Sam Brazel and two-time Asian Tour winner Jbe Kruger of South Africa.
Thongchai, a three-time Asian Tour number one, was rock solid, hitting top form which he attributed to putting a new golf ball and new irons into his golf bag ahead of the UBS Hong Kong Open, which is sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Hong Kong Golf Association.
“I played solid. I hit a lot of greens, didn’t miss much on the fairways. I’ve not hit it like this for two months. I don’t think I’ve seen my golf swing like this, in two or three months. That’s why we caught up a little bit,” said the 47-year-old Thongchai.
Thongchai, who has not finished lower than 19th position in Hong Kong since 2005, feels he can contend for the season-ending UBS Hong Kong Open title to end the year on a winning note.
“We know the course very well, that’s the first thing. We’re confident we can shape the shots on this course because the fairway is very tight and it gives me confidence to play,” said Thongchai, whose young compatriot Danthai Boonma also shot a fine 67.
Straight-shooting Siddikur got his bid for a third Asian Tour title off on a solid note, shooting a bogey-free card like Thongchai en route to his 67. “I’m excited as I was hitting it good. I did some changes with my club shafts and that’s helped me a lot. My ball is going higher, I hit a lot of five iron shots which stayed on the greens and that helps. I missed a lot of birdie chances as I hit 15 greens in regulation but I can’t complaint as the greens are really quick and I was scared of making three putts,” said the 32-year-old Siddikur, who finished runner-up in the Mauritius Open earlier this season.
“I played solid. I hit a lot of greens, didn’t miss much on the fairways. I’ve not hit it like this for two months. I don’t think I’ve seen my golf swing like this, in two or three months. That’s why we caught up a little bit.” – Thongchai Jaidee
Ten years after bursting onto the scene which included an eye-catching runner-up finish at the UBS Hong Kong Open in 2006, sweet-swinging Pagunsan put himself back in position to contend.
The 38-year-old played down his good start which included three straight birdies late in his round. “Maybe I just got lucky. You know, Hong Kong, it’s a memorable tournament for me,” said the Filipino.
World number 33 Cabrera Bello, a two-time European Tour champion, extended his fine form in 2016 in which he has notched two runner-up finishes and four other top-fives. He beamed with delight after seeing his ball disappear at the hole from the fairway.
“Yeah, that was nice. I had perfect distance, hit a really good shot and was surprised to see it go in. I had never really finished a round like that, and felt nice,” said the 32-year-old. “I played really smart, made very little mistakes, even though I hit every green, pretty much all of them, didn’t give myself trouble off the tee. I was in control all day and putted nicely, too, so it was nice work out there,” he added.
Title holder Justin Rose of England bogeyed the 18th hole to settle for a level par 70 after starting the week with uncertainty over a back injury which saw him withdraw from a tournament last week.
“I was pretty happy with that to be honest. I felt good with my body out there. I felt like I hit a lot of good golf shots. Just really struggled on the greens. I thought they were tricky this afternoon. I didn’t quite have the speed,” said the world number 15.
Masters Tournament winner Danny Willet and former UBS Hong Kong Open champion Ian Poulter carded 68s for a share of 22nd position while American Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed settled for a 70.
Scores after round 1 of the UBS Hong Kong Open Championship 2016 being played at the par 70, 6710 Yards Hong Kong GC course (am – denotes amateur):
64 – Rafa CABRERA BELLO (ESP).
65 – Sebastien GROS (FRA).
66 – Sam BRAZEL (AUS), Paul PETERSON (USA), Tommy FLEETWOOD (ENG), Nacho ELVIRA (ESP), Jordan L SMITH (ENG), Jorge CAMPILLO (ESP), David LIPSKY (USA), Peter UIHLEIN (USA), Jbe KRUGER (RSA), Benjamin HEBERT (FRA).
67 – Juvic PAGUNSAN (PHI), Jason SCRIVENER (AUS), Justin WALTERS (RSA), Danthai BOONMA (THA), Nathan KIMSEY (ENG), Thongchai JAIDEE (THA), Nino BERTASIO (ITA), Jens FAHRBRING (SWE), Siddikur RAHMAN (BAN).
68 – Marcus ARMITAGE (ENG), Steve LEWTON (ENG), Ian POULTER (ENG), Shiv KAPUR (IND), Carlos PIGEM (ESP), Paul DUNNE (IRL), Danny WILLETT (ENG), LU Wei-chih (TPE), Wade ORMSBY (AUS).
About UBS Group AG
UBS provides financial advice and solutions to wealthy, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as private clients in Switzerland. The operational structure of the Group is comprised of our Corporate Center and five business divisions: Wealth Management, Wealth Management Americas, Personal & Corporate Banking, Asset Management and the Investment Bank. UBS’s strategy builds on the strengths of all of its businesses and focuses its efforts on areas in which it excels, while seeking to capitalize on the compelling growth prospects in the businesses and regions in which it operates, in order to generate attractive and sustainable returns for its shareholders. All of its businesses are capital-efficient and benefit from a strong competitive position in their targeted markets.
UBS is present in all major financial centers worldwide. It has offices in 54 countries, with about 34% of its employees working in the Americas, 35% in Switzerland, 18% in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa and 13% in Asia Pacific. UBS Group AG employs approximately 60,000 people around the world. Its shares are listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
About Mega Events Fund
This year the “UBS Hong Kong Open” is sponsored by the Mega Events Fund of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. The Fund was set up in 2009 to support mega arts, cultural, sports and entertainment events to be staged in Hong Kong. With the approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, the operation of the Fund has been extended for five years until the end of March 2017 with a view to attracting more internationally acclaimed mega events to Hong Kong and reinforcing Hong Kong’s position as the events capital of Asia.
About the Asian Tour
As the official sanctioning body for professional golf in Asia, the Asian Tour leads the development of golf across the region, enhancing the careers of its members while maintaining a commitment to the integrity of the game. The Asian Tour, through its membership of the International Federation of PGA Tours, is the only recognised pan-Asian professional golf tour in Asia. This unique feature positions the Asian Tour at the pinnacle of professional golf in Asia; providing its events with Official World Ranking status. Tour Partners include ECCO (Official Footwear Sponsor), FENIX XCell (Official Apparel Supplier), Hilton Worldwide (Official Hotel Partner), Titleist (Official Web Partner), Bloomberg TV (Official International Media Sponsor), Bloomberg Businessweek Chinese (Official Business Publication Sponsor) and Rolex (Official Timekeeper). Sentosa, Singapore is the Home of the Asian Tour which also has an office in Kuala Lumpur.
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About The European Tour
The European Tour celebrates men’s professional golf on a global stage. In 2016, the European Tour International Schedule features 47 tournaments in 27 countries, all part of the Race to Dubai, the year-long competition which crowns the European Tour Number One at the end of the season, a title claimed in 2015 by Rory McIlroy for the third time.
Since its formation in 1972, the European Tour has witnessed 25 Members celebrate a total of 51 Major Championship titles between them, enjoyed ten Members attaining the pinnacle of World Number One and has celebrated its diversity as players from 36 different countries have won on Tour. The European Tour also manages the Challenge Tour, which features 28 tournaments in 22 countries in 2016, and the Senior Tour, which features 13 tournaments in nine countries in 2016. It is also the Managing Partner of Ryder Cup Europe, the body which, alongside the PGA of America, administers golf’s greatest team contest, The Ryder Cup. The European Tour broadcasts live coverage of its tournaments to over 490 million homes in more than 150 countries every week, generating in excess of 2200 global broadcast hours for each event. It also enjoys the support of many of the world’s leading business brands with Rolex, BMW, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Emirates and Titleist as Official Partners.