Hennie Otto sets an impressive pace at China Open

Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey both well off the pace after opening round

Hennie Otto leads after the first round of the China Open. Photograph: Afp

Hennie Otto leads after the first round of the China Open. Photograph: Afp

 

South Africa’s Hennie Otto rediscovered his form in brilliant fashion to set a daunting clubhouse target on day one of the Volvo China Open on Thursday.

Otto has not recorded a top-10 finish since winning the Italian Open in 2014 and has made two halfway cuts in nine events this season, breaking 70 just once in 22 rounds.

But the 39-year-old made a mockery of those statistics at Topwin Golf and Country Club in Beijing, carding seven birdies and an eagle to complete a flawless 63, his lowest score since a 62 en route to his third European Tour title in Italy.

After starting on the 10th, Otto birdied the 11th, 15th and 17th to reach the turn in 33, before picking up further shots on the second, third, fifth and seventh and chipping in for an eagle on the eighth.

“I played really well today,” Otto told European Tour Radio. “On the first hole I saved a good par and I think that gave me momentum. After that I hit it really close and I broke 30 putts. I think I had 23 putts with a chip-in and that makes a big difference.

“I’ve been playing well but haven’t been putting well. I haven’t broken 30 putts for a long time and I’ve been working hard on it and today it showed.

“It’s a nice golf course. We have a few courses in South Africa with the same grass and all these slopes so we adapt quickly.”

At nine under par Otto enjoyed a three-shot lead over Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, Swede Peter Hanson, Finland’s Roope Kakko and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, with Joost Luiten, Alex Noren and Bernd Wiesberger all five under approaching the end of their rounds.

However the Irish in the field, Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey, are both well off the pace after shooting 71 and 74 respectively.

Luiten, who has finished second in his last two events, had reached six under with four birdies and an eagle from just four feet on the reachable par-four 11th, before dropping a shot on the 13th.

Noren had carded five birdies in the first 11 holes and bounced back in style from back-to-back bogeys by holing out from a greenside bunker for an eagle on the 15th, another par four where players can attempt to drive the green.

Fellow Swede Rikard Karlberg was part of a large group on three under par and was celebrating winning a new car for a hole-in-one during his 69.

Karlberg holed out with a seven iron from 201 yards on the 16th and fittingly won a Volvo XC90 built near his home city of Gothenburg.

“I was discussing up on the tee with my caddie what club to hit and how to hit it and I had to give in,” he said. “I was not convinced but he convinced me how I should hit it and I hit it just like that and it ended up perfectly.

“I’ll probably give him two of the tyres or something as a thank you! The factory is 30 minutes from where I live so it’s pretty cool I’ve won a Swedish car in China.”

Defending champion Wu Ashun, who became the first Chinese player to win a European Tour event on home soil last year, was eight shots off the lead after two birdies and one bogey in an opening 71.

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