Last year’s winner Graeme McDowell endured a difficult return to the Ballantine’s Championship, firing three bogeys in his first nine holes at the Pinx Country Club on Jeju Island. before hitting three more on the way back in.
Birdies at the fourth and ninth took the sting out of the round a little, but still left him on four-over 76, 11 shots off leader Mark Brown.
“I’m shocked and stunned. Just didn’t play very well. I drove it all over the place. It was just a bad morning in the office. I didn’t feel quite at the races this morning,” McDowell said.
“I’ve got no complaints. The course was there for the taking. It was in good condition, the greens were a little elusive. I didn’t really putt too well at all.”
Meanwhile at the top of the leaderboard, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee shot four consecutive birdies to close in on Brown on the opening day of the championship.
Thongchai, who won the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open earlier this year, holed birdies from the second to the fifth holes this morning en route to closing the gap on Brown to one shot, after the New Zealander had set the early pace with a seven-under-par 65.
The Thai immediately followed his run with a bogey at the par-four sixth, but bounced back with an eagle at the 10th – the 11th player to do so today – plus a further birdie on hole 12 to leave him six under.
His playing partner for the day, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, was matching Thongchai all the way, with five birdies, a bogey and an eagle on the 10th also putting him at six under, and posing a considerable threat after impressing with second-place finishes in Portugal and then China last week.
However, Brown remains in the sole lead for now after his fine round of 65 in the morning session helped make amends for narrowly missing out on victory in Beijing last week.
The 34-year-old started by carding an eagle on his first hole at the par-five 10th.
Despite a bogey at the 14th, back-to-back birdies at holes 16 and 17 put him back up among the front runners at the turn, before two more consecutive birdies at the first and second holes and further birdies at the seventh and ninth pushed him to sole first place after the morning round had concluded.
Korea’s Kang Kyung-Nam was a shot back at six-under 66, one ahead of England’s Robert Dinwiddie whose round of six birdies and an eagle was soured by bogeys at the seventh and 11th holes.
Behind Dinwiddie a pack of six players are tied for fourth place on four under. Among them is world number nine Henrik Stenson, who after also starting on the back nine hit four birdies on his way back in having reached the turn on level par with bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes cancelling out birdies at 11 and 17.
Three-time major winner Ernie Els also found himself amongst them midway through his afternoon round, thanks to two birdies on the front nine and an eagle at the popular 10th.
Brown, meanwhile, was more than happy with his look at the course at the Pinx Golf Club.
And he admitted there was more to come from him as the tournament and the year progresses.
“I didn’t play here last year, so it’s my first real look at it. But I just played nice and steady,” he said.
“The last two or three tournaments I’ve started to play a little bit better and get my confidence up a little bit.
“I’m aiming to peak for a major in July back in Europe. It’s a step in the right direction.”