Fiji: Young talent Gavin Green of Malaysia tamed the blustery conditions at the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course to sign for an opening four-under-par 68 at the Fiji International on Thursday.
Starting from the 10, Green fired one eagle and three birdies against a bogey to turn in 32 before reeling nine straight pars on his way home. He trails leader Daniel Pearce of New Zealand by two shots in tied-fourth position.
India’s Rahil Gangjee posted a solid round despite suffering a two-shot penalty on his first hole 10 after arriving late on the tee. The 38-year-old Gangjee was disappointed for mixing up his tee times but made up for it by nailing four birdies and a closing eagle against a bogey.
Gangjee signed for an eventual 69 to tie in eighth place alongside a host of players, which included one-time Asian Tour winner Wade Ormsby of Australia, in the A$1.5 million (approximately US$1.14 million) event.
New Zealander Ben Campbell and Daniel Valente of Australia posted matching 67s to share second place at the event which is tri-sanctioned by the Asian, European and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia for the first time.
Australian Peter Cooke provided the day’s highlight when he struck a hole-in-one on the par-three 15 with a sand wedge from 149 yards. He signed for a 71 to trail by five shots in tied-24th place.
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Starting from the 10, Pearce fired three birdies to turn in 33. He soared with an eagle on the first after the turn and added three straight birdies right away before dropping two shots on his way home.
Pearce, a one-time winner on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia, needed only 25 putts in his opening round of 66.
Green is chasing for a breakthrough win on the Asian Tour. He is ranked fourth on the current Order of Merit, thanks to three top-10 results, including two runner-up finishes in India and Chinese Taipei.
Green turned professional in 2015 and has won three titles on the Asian Development Tour.
Green had his father, Gary, on caddying duties this week.
Green depended mostly on his one-iron off the tee in his opening round. He only hit the driver off the tee on four holes, including the par-five 17 which he eagled.
This is the first time Gangjee was late for his tee time since joining the play-for-pay ranks in 2001.
Gangjee won his first and only Asian Tour title in 2004.
Daniel Pearce (NZL) – First Round 66 (-6)
I holed a really nice putt on the first hole for birdie which got the momentum in the right direction. I managed to birdie the 11th hole as well and made a couple of good up and downs through the back nine to save par. I birdied 17 and then had a bit of a run through the front nine, the first four holes. It was just a lot of good golf.
It was quite breezy when we first started but I think the win definitely eased as the round went on. It got a little easier but the putter was pretty hot today. I rolled in a lot of putts from all over the place which was nice.
Gavin Green (Mas) – First Round 68 (-4)
It’s a good course but if the wind blows, it’s a beast. I hit a lot of one-irons off the tee today. I hit my one-iron to about 250 or 260. I am able to knock it down especially in the wind. I hit my driver only four times, including the 17th hole where I eagled today.
I was very tempted to hit it as hard as I can on that hole but I hit a soft one which still went quite far down there, given the downwind. I hit a pitching wedge to about 15 feet and made that eagle putt. It was nice as I had two straight birdies before that.
On the short par-three 15th hole, I hit a good wedge shot pin high right to about 10 or 15 feet and made the birdie putt. The birdie on the 16th hole was a weird one. There was a lot of trouble around so I played it really shot. I hit five-iron off the tee and a six-iron for my second shot to about 10 feet again.
I had a great momentum before making the turn. I came back with nine straight pars but it’s alright. I had a couple of big saves. If you tell me I will shoot a 68 here before the round, I will gladly take it, given the windy conditions here. I am definitely very pleased with how I played today.
Rahil Gangjee (Ind) – First Round 69 (-3)
It was windy out there but I was prepared for it. I just stayed patient and I managed to hit some good shots out there today. I was waiting for my birdie chances but it’s so windy out there you can’t really force it. You just have to let it come to you. I guess I was patient enough so it came.
I had a good finish with a chip-in eagle on my last hole ninth. I hit my third shot with a lob wedge over the bunker for about 25 to 40 yards. That was the highlight for me. I really wanted to finish like that! I got confused with my tee time for the first time in my career even though I remember looking at it properly. It was a lesson learnt.
Liu Yan-wei (Chn) – First Round 70 (-2)
I played nicely the whole round except for the bogey on the last. It was really windy out there but I stuck to my game plan. My tee shots were very good today. I am very pleased with how I played because I didn’t hit it well at all in the pro-am tournament yesterday.
You really need to control the ball well here. Tee shots are very important. It can be costly if you hit wayward drives on this course. Today’s round has definitely boosted my confidence but I will continue to do what I need to do for tomorrow.
I will credit my good iron-play for the three birdies today. All three were pretty much the same.
Nothing really stood out.
Scores after round 1 of the Fiji International being played at the par 72, 6575 Metres Natadola Bay CGC course (am - denotes amateur):
66 - Daniel Pearce (NZL).
67 - Ben Campbell (NZL), Daniel Valente (AUS).
68 - Gavin Green (MAS), Adam Bland (AUS), David McKenzie (AUS), Peter Wilson (AUS).
69 - Jason Norris (AUS), Michael Sim (AUS), Austin Connelly (CAN), Dale Brandt-Richards (AUS), Wade Ormsby (AUS), Rahil Gangjee (IND).
70 - Ashley Hall (AUS), Richard T Lee (CAN), David Bransdon (AUS), Taylor Macdonald (AUS), Chris Gaunt (AUS), Jason Scrivener (AUS), Anthony Quayle (AUS), Terry Pilkadaris (AUS), Todd Sinnott (AUS), Liu Yan-wei (CHN).