Westwood shares early lead
It did not take long for Lee Westwood to find his range in the US$200,000 Macau Open.
Shrugging aside the effects of jet-lag and making light of capricious early morning breezes, the Englishman lived up to his pre-tournament billing as favourite with a five-under-par 66 at the Macau Golf & Country Club.
Given that he arrived in the Portuguese enclave less than 24 hours before his 8.15 am first-round tee-off time yesterday, it was a commendable effort from the world number seven.
And chillingly for his rivals in the fourth leg of the 1999 Asian PGA Tour, Westwood gave the impression that, by his standards, it was no more than a routine round.
'I putted quite well and hit a lot of good iron shots,' was the 26-year-old's succinct summation of his stroll around the 6,622-yard layout on Coloane Island.
Out in 31 with four birdies, he covered the back nine in one-under 35, courtesy of two birdies and a solitary bogey at the dog-leg left, par-four 16th where he missed the green with his only poor approach shot of the day.
His score was the best of the morning session and also set a new course record, bettering the 67s of Fijian Vijay Singh and Japan's Satoshi Oide in the concluding round of last year's inaugural Open, won by Oide.
In the afternoon, when the winds died down, Westwood was joined at the top of the leaderboard by South Korean Kang Wook-soon, winner of the Asian PGA Tour's Order of Merit last year thanks to his back-to-back victories in the Hong Kong Open and Omega PGA Championship.
Hot on their heels are Chris Williams, an Englishman by birth who has spent most of his life in South Africa, American Andrew Pitts and a quartet of Asia's finest.
Sharing third place with Williams and Pitts on 67 are Thai Prayad Marksaeng and another South Korean, Choi Kyung-ju.
China's Zhang Lianwei and Taiwan's Hsieh Chin-sheng are a further shot back.
But it was Westwood, tied for sixth in last week's US Masters, who stole the limelight on his Macau debut.
Ordinarily, he would expect to play at least two practice rounds on a course he has not seen before. However, due to his high finish at Augusta he missed his flight on Sunday evening and after a gruelling 40-hour trek only made it to Macau for Wednesday's Pro-Am where he lined up alongside the Governor of Macau.
'I think I shot about 97 in the Pro-Am,' said Westwood, who, nevertheless, learned enough about the course to set himself up for a tilt at the title.
'It's not easy out there. There are lots of difficult holes and it's windy. In the conditions, that [a score of 66] represents a solid round of golf,' said Westwood, admitting he has not yet adjusted to the time change, even though he did sleep well on Wednesday night.
While Westwood is continuing in the rich vein of form he showed in 1998, fellow Ryder Cup player Darren Clarke is struggling to regain the magic touch that took him to second place on the 1998 European Tour Order of Merit.
Despite a birdie-birdie start, the Northern Irishman ended with a 72. 'I'm not making the most of my opportunities. I have no momentum at the moment,' he lamented.