Mickelson in the hunt despite wayward driving
World number two Phil Mickelson opened his campaign at the star-studded Barclays Singapore Open with a battling three-under-par 68 on Thursday but was overshadowed by a trio of Asian Tour regulars.
The American superstar said he would wake his swing coach Butch Harmon up with a telephone call to seek advice after struggling with wayward driving at the challenging Serapong Course at Sentosa Golf Club. He sank six birdies against a bogey and double bogey in his Asian Tour debut.
Australian Gavin Flint, who is half-Singaporean, compatriot Kane Webber and American rookie Jin Park enjoyed their day in the sun by eclipsing the world’s stars assembled in the US$ 4 million Barclays Singapore Open to jointly lead with 66s.
A four-birdie round from Filipino Angelo Que saw him claim fourth place, a stroke back and earning him some measure of relief as he had entered the elite tournament on the back of five missed cuts.
Amongst the tournament’s big guns who started strongly were Korea’s world number nine Choi Kyung-ju who reeled in three straight birdies on his inward nine for a 68 while title holder Adam Scott began his defence with a 70. Fiji’s Vijay Singh holed out from the fairway on his last hole for an eagle en route to a 70 while South African Ernie Els, who overcame food poisoning on Wednesday, carded a 72.
There was bad news for the local galleries when Singaporean number one Mardan Mamat when he was disqualified for inadvertently signing for a wrong score on the 13th hole, pencilling in a five instead of a six. He had shot a 69.
Mickelson’s high-profile visit to the Barclays Singapore Open, which includes four of the world’s top-10 players in this week’s field, attracted a large gallery but he failed to find any rhythm from off the tee.
The lefthander, a three-time Major champion, said: “I scored well and got the ball into the hole well. But my driving has been terrible and the worst that it’s been since I started working with Butch. It’s 10.15 his time at night and I’m going to give him a call, wake him up,” he said.
“I’m lucky to escape with a three under par round. I’ll talk to Butch to see if I can get it ironed out for tomorrow.”
Mickelson was in awe of the stern Serapong test and also praised the quality of play on the Asian Tour, in particular his playing partner Chapchai Nirat of Thailand, who shot a commendable 70.
“I didn’t expect the course to be that difficult. I think this is a tour calibre golf course. The fairways are in perfect condition, and it’s tight. The rough is thick and the greens are fair and fast. It’s a good test of golf.
“I didn’t realise how many good players were here in Asia. I noticed it on the driving range, on the putting greens and I noticed it when I played with Chapchai and he is a world class player,” enthused Mickelson.
“He can easily play on the PGA Tour and do very well. He should be playing in the World Golf Championships and the Majors as I feel he is so talented. I haven’t been made aware of how good the golf is in Asia. These players are strong,” said Mickelson.
Singapore’s hopes could rest on Flint, whose mother is Singaporean. The Australian birdied his final two holes to set the pace early in the day. “It kind of feels like a national Open for me. I had my mum and a few other friends out there supporting me this morning and to be able to stay at home is very good,” said Flint, who has two top-10s on the Asian Tour this year.
“It’s definitely great to have the opportunity to compare ourselves against some of the best players in the world. At the moment, it feels good to be leading. It’s still early days.”
Webber and Park joined the lead late in the day with strong finishes. Webber, last year’s Macau Open champion, birdied two of his last three holes while Park, playing in his rookie year on the Asian Tour, birdied two of his last four.
“I am not really surprised to be up there as I am playing really well. I have not put a score like this together in a while. Hopefully tomorrow I can put myself in the same positions as today,” said Webber.
Choi, the first Asian Tour product to find success on the US PGA Tour where he is a six-time winner, enjoyed a run of three straight birdies on his inward nine to surge up the leaderboard.
“I think my putting really started to improve on the back nine. I feel very comfortable putting on Bermuda greens because we have the same greens back in Houston. And when you putt better, you tend to gain your confidence back and on a course as difficult as this, maintaining your confidence level is very important,” said the man nicknamed “The Tank.”
If Choi found the greens to his liking, title holder Scott, chasing a record third straight triumph at the Barclays Singapore Open, felt he left a few shots out on the golf course.
“There were quite a few. I seem to hit it to about 15 to 20 feet quite a lot. And I hit quite a lot of good putts. A few came up short, especially when you’re putting down the green. But I hit some good putts, I just haven’t quite got the pace down yet, that’s something I have to work on,” he said.
“I was actually quite pleased with my round today. It was pretty solid, though I left a couple of birdies out there. I had to slow down on the second nine holes and I just trying to drive out of it and keep my concentration,” said the world number six.
Six players failed to complete their rounds due to fading light and will resume on Friday morning.
Leading first round scores (click here for full leaderboard):
66 - Gavin Flint (AUS), Kane Webber (AUS), Jin Park (USA)
67 - Angelo Que (PHI)
68 - K J Choi (KOR), Phil Mickelson (USA), Tetsuji Hiratsuka (JPN)
69 - Gary Simpson (AUS), Anthony Kang (USA), Richard Lee (NZL)
70 - Lin Keng-Chi (TPE), Adam Scott (AUS), Chapchai Nirat (THA), Vijay Singh (FIJ), Danny Chia (MAS), Keith Horne (RSA), Martin Rominger (SUI), Anthony Fernando [A] (PHI), Mars Pucay (PHI), S.S.P. Chowrasia (IND), Zaw Moe (MYN), Taichiro Kiyota (JPN), Gurbaaz Mann (IND)
71 - Guido Van Der Valk (NLD), Mo Joong-kyung (KOR), Lin Wen-tang (TPE), Darren Clarke (NIR), Kiyoshi Miyazato (JPN), Unho Park (AUS), David Gleeson (AUS), Quincy Quek [A] (SIN), Johnson Poh [A] (SIN), Angel Cabrera (ARG), Azuma Yano (JPN), Juvic Pagunsan (PHI), Lee Westwood (ENG), Lu Wei-chih (TPE), Mark Brown (NZL)
Note: Six players to complete round 1 on Friday morning.
November 1, 2007