Kevin Phelan seized a final Race to Dubai lifeline with both hands, banking a four- under-par 66 in sauna-like conditions on the opening day of the UBS Hong Kong Open.
Phelan is tied with fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell and just two shots off the lead in the co-sanctioned event in suburban Fanling.
The duo of Italy’s Andrea Pavan and Taipei Lu Wei-chih head the event on six under par with 64s. The 35-year Lu came close to retirement three years ago after undergoing brain surgery.
The Mount Juliet-attached Phelan arrived in the former colonial outpost lying 123rd in the Race to Dubai, only learning of his entry late on Monday, but now needing to finish inside the top-111 on Sunday to earn automatic 2016 membership.
For Phelan, who is €48,892 short of 111th place, it means finishing top-seven in Hong Kong.
Phelan had been all intent on heading to the final stage of Q-School after falling short of his goal at last week’s Portugal Masters before being handed a lifeline into Hong Kong.
However the quietly-spoken Phelan grabbed his opportunity with both hands posting six birdies and taking only 27 putts on the tight tree-lined layout.
“I am pretty happy with my score and any time I found myself in trouble I managed to rescue the situation,” he said.
“It’s the first time for a while playing in really hot weather like this but then I kept myself hydrated as you need to do.
“But then after the Dunhill Links I had virtually written off my year but then I got into Portugal and now here into Hong Kong.
“However it hasn’t been the best of preparations as I didn’t arrive into Portugal till late Wednesday while I didn’t get here to Hong Kong until late on Tuesday.”
McDowell grabbed five birdies in his round and like Phelan recorded only 27 putts including a curling 25-foot gem at the 10th hole.
“I am pretty happy with that round despite being three under par through 10 holes so while a few more putts could have gone in, I am pretty happy and can’t complain,” said McDowell.
McDowell is partnering the events top-two world ranked players in World No. 5 Justin Rose and World No. 7 Dustin Johnson.
Rose shot a five under par 65 while Johnson signed off for a one under par 69.
Padraig Harrington, winner of the 2004 Hong Kong Open, carded a level par 70 while Peter Lawrie shot a 78.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved