China’s first professional golfer to hit the limelight, Zhang Lianwei, blew the chance to grab the early clubhouse lead after he double-bogeyed his final hole to finish with a four-under-par 66 at the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Zhang, who started the opening round with a bang, knocking in four straight birdies on his first four holes and going five-under after eight, was left ruing his first major mistake of the day right at the end when he missed the fairway with a poor tee shot resulting in his only blemish.
It left the 47-year-old former Chinese number one a stroke behind Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who took the early honours with a five-under 65.
“I only missed two fairways all day and the last one cost me badly,” Zhang said. “My tee shot at the final hole was my worst shot all day. I landed in the rough and chipped out with a gap wedge, about 105 yards. There was a strong head wind and I couldn’t get on the green and then missed the putt ending with a double-bogey.”
Zhang is aiming to turn back the clock. A two-time winner of the Macau Open (2001 and 2002) and a winner of the Volvo China Open in 2003, he still harbours hopes of completing the “treble” by winning the Hong Kong Open for the first time.
“Nobody has done it before, winning the China Open, the Macau Open and the Hong Kong Open. Hopefully, I will be the first player to achieve that. I love coming to Hong Kong,” Zhang said.
Two-time Hong Kong Open champion Jimenez is another who loves playing at Fanling. Like Zhang, he was six-under heading into the last two holes before blowing it with consecutive bogeys.
“I played solid but it was pity I picked up two bogeys at the end,” said Jimenez. “I love Hong Kong and coming here. On my first visit in 2004, I won the tournament and then did it again three years later. This is an old-fashioned course, not very long, and I love playing here.”
One shot behind Jimenez and tied with Zhang on the leaderboard was fellow Spaniard and triumphant Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal with a composed 66, while former major champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand was another shot adrift on 67.
Scot Colin Montgomerie, winner in 2005, had a disastrous start, finishing with a four-over 74.
World number one Rory McIlroy began his title defence with a bogey but picked that dropped shot at his third hole. McIlroy was in a late flight which included Italian Matteo Manassero, winner of the Barclays Singapore Open last week, and China ace Liang Wenchong.