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Thongchai Jaidee & Kim Do-hoon lead with 64s

Thongchai Jaidee, forced out of last week’s U.S. Masters by an elbow injury, proved he was fighting fit again by powering into a share of the lead at the China Open on Thursday.

The former Royal Thai Army paratrooper landed on top of the first-round leaderboard alongside South Korean Kim Do-hoon after both fired eight-under 64s in chilly Suzhou.

Playing alongside Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie (Europe) and Corey Pavin (U.S.) at the Jinji Lake Golf Club, Thongchai made his mark by sinking short putts for birdies at the par-four 16th and par-three 17th.

“If my health stays okay over the next few days I hope to get better and better,” the 40-year-old Thai told reporters.

“I hit a lot of fairways and greens and made a lot of putts today.”

Woolly hats were the order of the day on a cold and windy morning that must have felt more like Scotland than Suzhou to the early starters but China’s Liang Wenchong and Pablo Larrazabal of Spain set a hot pace.

Both players made seven birdies and a bogey to shoot 66s, a score matched later by Briton Jamie Donaldson.

One stroke further adrift on 67 were Irish pair Damien McGrane, the 2008 winner, and Peter Lawrie, Hong Soon-sang of South Korea and American Pavin.

Thongchai, who had to pull out of the season’s first major at Augusta midway through the second round, said the weather in China hampered his preparations for the European Tour event.

“I was unable to practice on the course,” said the world number 48. “I only played two holes in the pro-am because the weather was terrible.

“Last week was very hard for me having to withdraw but I have had a few days rest and this week and next week (the Ballantine’s Championship in Korea) are very important for me.

“If I can do well I can stay in the top 50 and I can play in the Players Championship (in Florida) next month,” added Thongchai.

Kim made a late rush to the top of the leaderboard with birdies at his two closing holes—the eighth and ninth.

The Korean followed up victory on his home tour last week by reeling off eight birdies and an eagle in the first round.

“I played very well, it was my third 64 in three weeks,” said Kim.

World number 16 Henrik Stenson of Sweden and U.S. PGA champion Yang Yong-eun of South Korea carded 68s.

Chinese amateur Zhang Jin, 14, the youngest player to qualify for the $2.5 million event, opened with a creditable 73.

The teenager looked very much at home early on, playing a fine tee shot to 15 inches at the par-three sixth and reaching the ninth tee at two under. But he slipped back with bogeys at the ninth, 14th and 18th.

Montgomerie had to settle for a 72 despite carding six birdies.



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