Great Scott upstages HK Open superstars

SCHOOLBOY Scott Rowe passed the most stringent examination of his fledgling career with flying colours yesterday, upstaging golfing superstars Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros in the opening round of the US$250,000 Kent Hongkong Open. Far from being intimidated by the exalted company in which he found himself, the 17-year-old Hongkong amateur champion showed remarkable composure and maturity as he toured the Composite Course in three-under-par 68.

That was four shots better than playing partner and defending champion Watson and six in front of an out-of-sorts Ballesteros. Taiwan's Chen Tse-chung, the third member of Rowe's flight, returned a 69. Rowe's performance was also better than any of the 14Hongkong professionals and enabled him to finish the day in equal 12th place in the 156-man field - five shots off the pace being set by American Brian Watts.

''It was an unbelievable experience,'' said Rowe, who is still taking medication for a severe bout of food poisoning which forced him to go to hospital on Tuesday. ''I felt pretty good out there and it was probably the best round of golf I have ever played,'' said Rowe, whose round included nine pars, six birdies, one bogey and one double-bogey. For the final 10 holes he was five-under.

While Rowe was on cloud nine, 43-year-old Watson was less than happy with his one-over-par 72. ''I just didn't have it today. It's kind of unexplainable,'' said the American, who made a disastrous start with bogeys at each of the first three holes. He added: ''The real key was that I didn't drive the ball well. My (swing) path was not good and I'm going to the range to try and work things out.

Under wet and windy conditions such as last year, 72 would have been okay, but it was such an easy day to play and that is a poor score.'' Despite his problems, Watson found time to offer words of encouragement to Rowe. Said Watson: ''He's a fine player. He had a bit of a shaky start but then played very well. There is a good pace to his swing and it will enable him to hit a lot of good shots. He's also a good putter . . . and that's what it takes.'' Although he appeared calm and collected, Rowe confessed he felt in awe of the eight-time major champion as they stood on the first tee. ''I didn't sleep a great deal the night before and I was a little nervous to begin with. I went up to him and said 'I'mplaying a Titleist, Mr Watson'. He said: 'Call me Tom'. Watching him calmed me down and it did not take long for me to feel comfortable,'' said Rowe, whose father, Kevin, acted as caddie and whose mother, Jean, watched anxiously from behind the ropes.

Watson dropped a stroke at the par-four first after pull hooking his drive into a bunker and his woes did not end there. He three-putted from the front edge of the green at the short second and then had the misfortune to see his drive at the par-five third bury in another bunker. His three-wood third shot struck timber and the ball ricocheted into the pond left of the green. He holed from 10 feet for a six. Watson saved par from off the green at the fifth and had to wait until the long ninth for his first birdie, chipping back from behind the green to 10 feet and rolling home the putt.

He parred his way through to the 14th before gaining another stroke at the short 15th after striking a four-iron to 15 feet. Birdie putts went begging at the last three holes leaving Watson with plenty of ground to make up. After reeling off five pars, Rowe's real adventures began at the sixth where he drove into a bunker and left his approach right of the green. He duffed his first chip and hit the next 10 feet past the cup from where he two-putted for a six.

His spirits were raised at the next where he holed a curling right-to-left 30-footer from off the green for birdie, but he gave the shot back at the short eighth after a poor tee-shot. It was at the par-five ninth where his hot streak began. An exquisite greenside bunker shot left him a tap-in birdie which he followed with another from 25 feet at the 10th. With the bit now firmly between his teeth, Rowe narrowly missed birdie putts at the 11th and 13th in between which he two-putted for a four at the long 12th.

A magnificent seven-iron approach to three feet at the 14th set up his fourth birdie in six holes. Following regulation pars at the next two holes Rowe continued his roll by chipping in from behind the green for his final birdie of the day, raising his arms in a rare show of emotion.