Graeme McDowell was bogey-free on his way to posting a three-under 67 on a day where Aussie Cam Smith birdied five of the closing seven holes to shoot 63 in round one of the 67th hosting of the Hong Kong Open.
McDowell, a podium finisher at the Hong Kong Open back in 2007, is among those hoping that his talents will be recognised and a new contract offered having entered free-agency on LIV and a good finish here could go a long way to securing his playing status for 2024. The 2010 US Open started strongly with birdies on his second and third holes and added another at the eighth to move to three-under. Though it would prove the highwater mark of his round with the frustrated Northern Irishman parring his remaining 10 holes on route to a share of 21st place.
Smith’s efforts, in his first appearance in the premier Asian Tour event in nine-years, has him tied for the lead with Spaniard Eugenio Chacarra, one clear of the field on the Hong Kong Golf Club course in suburban Fanling.
In addition to matching Smith’s seven-under tally, Chacarra also made five birdies over his inward nine to go bogey-free for the round with a back-nine 31.
Smith last contested the Hong Kong Open in 2014, then a DP World Tour co-sanctioned event, when the then 21-year-old was in his rookie season and finished a very respectable ninth overall.
The 2022 Open Champion opened with back-to-back birdies at the first and second holes before a slight hiccup by making bogey at the par-5 third hole, but he produced four straight pars before ending the run with a birdie at the eighth hole and then added another at 12 before making four birdie-threes in succession from the 14th, much to the delight of a great first day crowd who’d flocked to the historic course.
“Played really solid,” Smith said. “Was able to put in some good work the first few days while I was here. It worked out today.
“The course is very refreshing. It’s nice not having to slug your driver on every hole, and actually having to figure some stuff out. It was tricky out there today, a little gusty. It’s a cool track. It’s one of my favourites and hopefully we get any rain.”
Smith is also the highest world ranked player in the field currently lying at No. 20 in the world though teeing-up in only a sixth ‘official’ World Ranking tournament this year due to his LIV Golf membership.
Chacarra, who played golf for Oklahoma State University before dropping out to join the Saudi-backed LIV circuit, teed off soon after sun-rise and held the clubhouse lead after his seven-birdie round.
Masters winner Patrick Reed, competing in the event for the first time, is four shots off the lead on three-under, the American recovering from dropped shots at the third and fifth in his round of 67.
McDowell’s fellow Irishman Brian O’Connor, the recently appointed Head Professional at the host club, made the most of his invitation to tee it up by producing a respectable one-over 71.
The former PGA Tour China member and long-time teaching pro at Mission Hills commenced his round from the 11th hole and picked-up his only birdie at three before dropping shots at the fourth and sixth holes on the card.