Hong Kong Open: England ‘child prodigy’ Aaron Rai, Jason Scrivener and Yasuku Miyazato lead by one shot after first round
- Wolverhampton native Rai is hoping for a breakthrough year on the circuit
- Fleetwood is one-under while Garcia fights back to shoot even par
Aaron Rai was considered a golf prodigy when he was as young as five years old, with the BBC having filmed him in 2000 hitting balls at his local driving range in Wolverhampton.
At the time, he said he wanted to become a racing driver when he grew up. But 18 years later Rai is sharing pole position with Australia’s Jason Scrivener and Japan’s Yusaku Miyazato after the first round of the US$2 million Honma Hong Kong Open on Thursday at Fanling.
All three returned scores of five-under-par 65 under difficult conditions at a windy Hong Kong Golf Club to lead by one stroke from a group of three golfers on four-under.
“Whether it’s windy or not, you have to play well here and put the ball in the right spots and hopefully the conditions are kind to us,” said Rai, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour.
“I didn’t have too many expectations coming into the round. The conditions looked tough when we got here in the morning and the important thing was not to drop shots and be as neat and tidy as possible. Luckily it panned out that way,” said Rai, in his second season on the European Tour.
India’s Arjun Atwal, who has been coming to Hong Kong for more than 20 years, is among the pack of three who are one stroke behind the leaders.
Also on 66 were England’s Jack Singh Brar and American Micah Lauren Shin. South African Thomas Aiken and Thai Danthai Boonma are a shot adrift on three-under.
Joint leader Scrivener said: “I just give myself a good chance going into the second round. It’s a golf
course I really like and I feel like if I can keep playing the way I am, it really suits me.”
Atwal, 45, was among the early starters and completed his round when the conditions were at their most testing for the day.
As the weather eased, his score of 66 appeared vulnerable but it was not until late in the day that Rai, Scrivener and Miyazato went lower – and then by only one stroke.
“It was unexpected, a tough day but I’ll take it,” said Atwal, who has been struggling with back problems recently. “I’m really happy with my round. I haven’t played much in two months and take each day as it comes and try my best.”
The big names had mixed fortunes on the opening day. England’s Tommy Fleetwood, the 2017 Race to Dubai winner, finished on one-under 69, along with India’s European Tour rookie of the year Shubhankar Sharma.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia fought back after being three-over to finish on even-par 70 while four-time winner Miguel Angel Jimemez was two-over 72.
Australia’s 2016 winner Sam Brazel lurked at two-under after his 68 and defending champion Wade Ormsby was even par for the day. US Masters champion Patrick Reed gave himself a mountain a climb with a five-over 75.
With the Hong Kong Open being the start of the 2019 European season – just a week after the 2018 campaign ended – many of the golfers are feeling the strain, including Fleetwood and former US Masters winner Garcia.
When asked if he was weary, Fleetwood replied: “I wouldn’t say weary. Maybe a little bit on the tired side rather than fresh.
“It’s always great this event because the season has just finished and you get guys who just got their tour card who are fresh and hungry and guys who didn’t do that well last year excited about the new season.
“I enjoy this atmosphere and it’s nice to start again,” said Fleetwood, who last week missed out on winning a second straight Race to Dubai title.
Garcia, making his second appearance in Hong Kong, admitted he was looking forward to a rest after the Hong Kong Open.
“I felt I was playing well and hit a lot of good shots but nothing seems to be going the right way,” said Garcia. “Fortunately, I got on a run later on and made a couple of putts.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit tiring. I’m excited to finish this week and rest up a little bit. It’s been a long and interesting season. A lot of good tournaments and that kind of takes a bit of energy out of you. Hopefully I’ll finish well in Hong Kong and then rest up.”