Shop-happy Carmen bags share of lead

AUSTRALIAN Carmen Hajjar swapped her shopping bag for her golf clubs and claimed a share of the opening-day lead in the Hongkong Open women's amateur championship at Fanling yesterday.

A final-hole birdie gave the 26-year-old from Brisbane a one-over-par 73 on the Royal Hongkong Golf Club's Eden Course to tie Malaysian international Irene Yeoh at the top of the leaderboard.

Among the 10 players to break 80 were Chinese duo Lam Shiyu and Wong Lixia and Hongkong number one Joann Hardwick who rescued a 77 thanks to three birdies in the last four holes.

However, top billing went to 21-year-old Yeoh and the extrovert Hajjar, whose father's parents hailed from Lebanon and whose mother's family are Irish.

''This is my first overseas trip and I'm mainly here to do some shopping,'' said Hajjar, who since arriving in the territory on Saturday has spent most of her time - and money - searching out bargains in Hongkong's markets.

But the scratch handicapper from Nudgee Golf Club showed her eye for a birdie was no less sharp as she put herself into contention for the top prize in the 54-hole JAL-sponsored tournament.

Despite four three-putts, Hajjar's mature course management was rewarded with four birdies in a round highlighted by a two at the short second where she chipped in from off the back of the green.

Yeoh, who last played in Hongkong as a junior, was equally pleased with her performance.

''My game has improved over the past year and I'm happy with how I'm playing at the moment,'' said Yeoh, back in Southeast Asia for a holiday after completing her first two terms at Mount Saint Jacinto College in southern California where she is studying health science.

Less well travelled are the players from Zhongshan Hot Spring Golf Club in Guangdong Province. However, Lam Shiyu, Wong Lixia, Lam Yinmay and Wong Laiyu made the most of their familiarity with the Eden layout to mount a four-pronged Chinese challenge.

Lam Shiyu overcame a bogey-six at the first where she found water with her approach to make four birdies in a 74, while Wong recovered from two mid-round double-bogeys to end with a 78.

Hardwick, aiming to become the first Hongkong player for six years to win the event, also had numerous uncomfortable moments. But she showed her mettle with birdies at the 15th, 16th and 18th to go into today's second round alone in seventh place.

She is one stroke behind Japan's Yukiko Oita, who began her round with a double-bogey seven but ended with an eagle three, and two adrift of 1984 champion Momoko Yamaguchi and Taiwan's Lee Jui-hui.