Both Cormac Sharvin and Michael Hoey struggled to get to grips with some brutally tough conditions on day one of the Belt and Road Colourful Yunnan Open.
With the Challenge Tour resuming in China this week, players were greeted by gusting winds and tricky greens that made for a tough scoring day all round.
Sharvin returned a five-over-par 76 to claim a share of 94th while Hoey endured a day to forget, signing for a damaging ten-over-par 81 to just about prop up the field. They’ll be hoping for a calmer day tomorrow to have any chance of forcing their way into the weekend.
Of the 36 players who broke par, it was Charlie Saxon who continued his fantastic start to 2018 by carding a five-under-par round of 66 to take a share of the first round lead.
The American, who is making his European Challenge Tour debut this week, has already won twice on the China Tour this season and arrived at Yulongwan Golf Club knowing he can perform there having finished as a runner-up at the Kunming course in the PGA Tour China Series in 2016.
Despite dropping a shot on the first after an errant tee shot, the 24-year-old rallied with birdies at the third, fifth, sixth and ninth to reach the turn in 34 and keep in touch with morning leaders Sunil Jung and Borja Virto, who set the clubhouse target at five-under-par.
Three further gains over the back nine followed with Saxon tying the lead after holing a tricky 15-foot putt at the par four 15th.
Although he was unable to convert another birdie chance at the 18th – Saxon had hit a stunning approach to five feet from a difficult lie at the corner of a bunker 120 yards from the pin – the American joined England’s Matt Ford, Canada’s Jung and Spain’s Virto at the top of the leaderboard.
“It was a really good day”, he reflected. “The conditions out there were difficult and it is a tough course – there’s a lot going on around the greens and with the wind picking up that makes it more challenging – so I just came out and tried to play a solid round of golf.
“My Dad always says ‘you can’t win it on the first day but you can shoot yourself out of it’ so I was happy not to shoot myself out of it.
“I did everything well today. The only mistake was hitting it into the hazard on my first hole but after that I didn’t make any.
“China has been really good to me. For some reason I always play my best golf here and I also have good memories of this course after finishing as a runner-up here two years ago. I’m excited for the rest of the week.”
One adrift of the leaders are Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen and China’s Xue-wen who both signed for four-under-par rounds of 67.
One further back is a pack of six players including Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg, who has continued his good start to the 2018 campaign by following his tied sixth place finish in the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open with a three-under-par opening 68 today.