HEADLINERS Shane Lowry and Tony Finau started slowly at the Hong Kong Open Thursday, with former champion Wade Ormsby setting the early pace as the tournament teed off six weeks after being postponed amid pro-democracy protests.
Ormsby birdied three of the first five holes — and added three more against a lone bogey — to end with a five-under 65, hailing the “good vibes” at the historic Fanling course where he won his maiden European Tour title in 2017.
Japan’s Tomoharu Otsuki was also five under, while South Korea’s Yikeun Chang and Australians Travis Smyth and David Gleeson were one behind and joint second.
The tight fairways and breezy conditions challenged, with Open winner Lowry finishing at one under.
“It was very, very tricky… anything in the 60s out there is pretty good,” the Irishman said on his first return to the course in a decade.
“I think I can build on that going forward.”
“Tomorrow I’ve got to hit a little bit better,” he said, admitting there was a little bit of “rust” remaining from a break taken after the President’s Cup in Melbourne.
“My putter actually saved me. I probably could have hit one or two over today, so I’m happy to hit under par.”
Hong Kong-born amateur Alexander Yang — who at 17 is the second youngest player in the tournament — also ended one under after a birdie on the eighteenth.
“I’m really happy at the way I played today. I hit the ball really well, really solid,” he said.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond bogeyed the ninth and the sixteenth and came in at two under.
“I hit some shots where I thought I could pull it off, but I didn’t pull it off,” he said.
The 24-year-old, whose stellar 2019 sees him head to the US Master in Augusta this April, failed to make the cut on both his previous two appearances in Hong Kong. India’s Shiv Kapur also ended two-under-par.
Organisers hope a successful staging of the Open will show that some normality is returning to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, which has seen months of unrest and demonstrations.
The tournament — whose previous winners include Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose — was originally slated for November, but was postponed as the finance hub wrestled with the often-violent protests.
The rescheduled tournament is sanctioned by the Asian Tour but not the European Tour, which will resume its support when the event returns to its November slot later this year.
The changed date also resulted in the loss of original headliners Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson and Aaron Rai, the defending champion.