Fans throng around Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Li Haotong at Hong Kong Open
Three of the biggest drawcards in the tournament, the trio are in the reckoning at Fanling after negotiating a day of difficult conditions
Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Li Haotong – it was the group they all came to see and they were not disappointed at the UBS Hong Kong Open on Thursday.
Hundreds of fans thronged around the greens and fairways to watch three of the biggest drawcards in the tournament and, although none of the golfers were happy with their performances they all hit sub-par rounds and are in the reckoning.
Rose and Li are two-under 68 after the opening round at Fanling while Garcia was one-under after a difficult day negotiating unpredictable winds and colder-than-expected weather.
Rose fired five birdies and collected three bogeys in his round, dropping a shot on the 18th.
The 2015 Hong Kong Open champion has been in red-hot form over the past month, winning back to back events at the WGC Championship and Turkey before finishing tied for fourth at the season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai last week.
The Hong Kong Open represents the opening event of the 2018 season and former US Open champion Rose said it was something he was having trouble adjusting to.
“Mentally, it’s important for me to make a distinction [between the end of last season and the new one], so I can come here and make a fresh start and put last week and last season behind me,” said Rose. “It’s important you draw that mental line in the sand.
“It’s not easy but that’s the plan. I feel a bit on edge here this week in terms of patience and those types of things and I definitely need to encourage myself to think of it as a start. That involves things I can do to make myself stay fresh.
“Eat well, sleep well and rest well. It’s all about giving myself energy.”
Garcia, the Masters champion, bogeyed the first and last holes to bookend five birdies and a double bogey on the 10th, where he went in the water.
“I didn’t feel great, my game wasn’t quite on today,” said Garcia. “It’s a good thing I sort of kept it together and scored one under par on a day that was quite tricky with the wind moving, swirling and gusting
“I’m happy about that but I would love to feel a lot better with the way I played.”
Still, the Spaniard is relieved to be only four shots behind leader SSP Chawrasia, of India.
“You could see it was a tough day [with the scores],” said Garcia. “It was very gusty and we got caught on the 10th hole where the wind changed on us and we hit the water.
“But we kept fighting and plugging along and shot under par, which was not bad.”
Li was also unhappy with his performance after a bogey on the final hole prevented him from signing for three under. He hit four birdies and two bogeys in all.
“I didn’t feel I played that well and hopefully I can improve tomorrow,” said Li.
Rose is also confident he could make ground on the leaders though he was wary of talking numbers.
“It always takes good golf,” he said. “I like this course. I think it offers plenty of birdie opportunities. I seem to be hitting my short irons quite well.
“I feel like today is a good, solid start, really. Didn’t really make a putt of any length. Made a few mistakes. To come out on a day like today under par is a good, positive start.
“Predicting numbers, I don’t really know what the weather is going to do. But yeah, I feel like just keep moving forward and there should be a chance on Sunday.”