Australian Greg Norman, who qualifies to play on the Champions Tour next year, produced a vintage performance at the BMW Asian Open in Shanghai today to sit just one shot off the clubhouse lead.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is defending champion, courtesy of his victory in Taiwan two years ago, and was amongst the afternoon group to tee off on the beautifully manicured course – compared by some of the players to Sawgrass in America.
Harrington birdied the first, as did Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jarmo Sandelin.
England’s Simon Dyson, winner of the Asian PGA Order of Merit in 2000, was top of the leaderboard after a six-under-par round of 66, just ahead of Norman and Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng.
Norman negotiated the narrow fairways with aplomb and even recovered from a wayward tee-shot on the last, which forced him to play his approach from the 16th fairway, to save par.
Marksaeng hit back from a double-bogey, which had taken him to one over par, with a sizzling run of four birdies and an eagle in his last seven holes to thrust himself into early contention.
Australia’s Marcus Both finished with four consecutive birdies for a 68, level on four under par with Ireland’s Paul McGinley.
Equador’s Rafael Ponce, who held the early lead, shot six birdies in all but an inconsistent inward nine took him to the clubhouse with a three-under-par 69, alongside American Gary Rusnal, James Kingston of South Africa and Norman’s fellow Australian, Adam Groom.
Norman has not won a tournament in six years – his last triumph came, appropriately enough, at the Greg Norman Holden International in Australia – and nowadays he picks and chooses events as much around his business commitments as his desire to play the game he once dominated.
The 49-year-old currently holds the record for most weeks ranked world number one, though Tiger Woods is closing in fast and is likely to surpass the ’Great White Shark’ by August.
Not that that bothers Norman, who has insisted since arriving in Shanghai, via course openings in South Korea and Schenzhen, that his primary motivation now is to promote the game around the world.
And in a country seen as the fastest-growing golfing nation of all, what better way to do that than by pushing for the lead in the first ever European Tour-sanctioned event in mainland China?
Starting on the 10th, he reached the turn in 33 with birdies at the 11th, 13th and 18th, and he picked up two more shots on the way home.
It had been enough for a share of the lead until Dyson, whose only blip had come with a bogey at the long par-four 15th, carded a seventh birdie on his last hole to become sole leader.
Dyson has enjoyed remarkable success in China, winning the Macau Open, the China Open and the Hong Kong Open en route to claiming the Asian Order of Merit in 2000.
While he targeted a fourth victory in China, disqualified South African Chris Williams was back in the hotel room and kicking himself.
Williams had been due to tee off at 6.40am but read the order of play incorrectly, mistaking his name for Welshman Craig Williams.
When he failed to show at the Tomson Golf Club, tournament officials placed a call to his hotel room and found him asleep, certain he was not due off until 11.20am.
It was a major blunder for the English-born 45-year-old, currently 51st on the Asian Order of Merit but a former player of the year, who misses out on the Tour’s second’s richest event.
The BMW Asian Open returned to the schedule after a year’s hiatus and broke new ground becoming the first European Tour-sanctioned event to be staged in mainland China.