HONG KONG – An unfamiliar trio upstaged Ryder Cup stars and the Masters champion in the first round of the Hong Kong Open on Thursday as blustery conditions took their toll on the big names.
England’s Aaron Rai, Japan’s Yusaku Miyazato and Jason Scrivener of Australia managed to remain on course, all carding 65 to end top of the widely-spread leaderboard at the par-70 Fanling.
South African Thomas Aiken was joint seventh after a good start, with a three-under 67.
Cold and breezy conditions in the morning took their toll on the early groups, claiming their biggest scalp in Masters champion Patrick Reed, who shot four bogeys and a double bogey to card a disappointing 75.
Sergio Garcia, who became the top points scorer in Ryder Cup history earlier this year, was also affected by the elements in a level-par round.
“It was a frustrating day, mainly because I thought I played well... Nothing seemed to be going the right way.”
Fleetwood, his Ryder Cup teammate who was bracketed in the same group, concurred: “The last few (holes) the wind dropped, and we had some chances... But I didn’t play great.”
Fleetwood, the world number 9, shot three birdies and two bogeys to end the day on 69, while Garcia ended on par.
At the top of the leaderboard Rai, 23, playing his third season on the European Tour, held steady on the challenging course to shoot three birdies as well as an eagle on the 13th.
Miyazato, ranked 136 in the world, bounced back from a bogey at the ninth hole, while Scrivener shot three birdies in a row to share the top spot.
Crowd favourite Andrew “Beef” Johnston, playing for the first time at Fanling, shot three birdies and two bogeys to card 69.
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shares a record four wins at the historic course, also struggled, carding 72, including two bogeys and a double bogey.
His compatriot, big-hitter Alvaro Quiros, reined in his game for Fanling’s short fairways and tight greens, shooting an eagle and a birdie in the first three holes, and carding 68.
Arjun Atwal, returning to competitive golf following a two-month absence due to a back injury, battled alongside Reed to card a strong 66.
The Indian, whose last win on the European Tour was in 2008, shot four birdies, said he was happy, if surprised, “to see my name on the leaderboard again”.