A KENNEDY AT THE TOP
Australian eclipses the big guns
Brad Kennedy of Australia put behind him a miserable start to the season with a brilliant seven-under-par 65 to take the first-round lead in the US$2.44-million Johnnie Walker Classic at the Blue Canyon Country Club yesterday.
The 32-year-old from Gold Coast was on fire on the back nine reeling off five birdies for a total of eight birdies against a bogey to emerge the surprise leader on a day when the elite in the field got totally eclipsed.
"It was a very satisfying round after not the greatest of starts to the year,'' said Kennedy, who is currently No 169 on the European Tour ranking. "I had a great start today, chipping in on the first for a birdie and hit a great 4-iron to two feet on the second. Things started to ease my way through the round after that. I hit a lot of fairways."
It was a disastrous day for the tournament's two main attractions, world No 4 Adam Scott and No 6 Ernie Els, who suffered hiccups in the heat. Australian Scott, who pundits believe is primed to win the tournament again, had an eagle on the par-5 hole 9, but hit a plateau after that with three bogeys and a double bogey on the fourth.
It was a forgettable day in office for "Big Easy" Ernie Els, who stumbled to a 1-over-par 73 for a joint 89th place.
The two-time Johnnie Walker champion was inconsistent with two double bogeys, three bogeys and six birdies.
"I had two double bogeys on easy holes. If it wasn't for that I would have had a pretty good round,'' bemoaned the two-time US Open champion whose shot hit the bunker and then the tree to suffer a double bogey at hole No 16.
After two top-30 finishes in the MasterCard Masters and Blue Chip New Zealand Open, Kennedy missed the cuts in the Qatar Masters and Malaysian Open. So he went back home, started building up his physique, fixed his swing before making his move in this resort island.
"I went to the gym and had a good couple of weeks with my coach."
Kennedy was chased by a pack that includes former US Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, Graeme Storm of England, Scottish Stephen Gallacher and Peter Hanson of Sweden, all of whom carded five-under to be one stroke behind. Weir, the first Canadian to lift a Major when he was crowned the US Masters champion in 2003, eagled the par-5 hole 11 for five under. He adapted himself quickly to the tropical heat coming from the below-zero degree temperature back in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"I was skiing on Sunday before I got on the plane on Sunday afternoon. The last couple of holes the wind picked up and made the difference but it was very hot out there. So I'm happy with my round,'' said Weir.
Storm, who worked in the cream factory to finance his season before a breakthrough in 2005, shared the second spot after firing birdies on holes 1, 4, 5, 8, 13 before picking up an eagle on hole 10 par four.
"It was a great start. I played nicely on the front nine and made a couple of great up and downs and holed my second shot at the tenth which got me to six under." said Storm, No 67 on the European Tour.
India's Jeev Milkha Singh, the 2006 Asian No 1, emerged as the biggest hope for the continent with a five-under 67 to finish joint sixth along with Australian Scott Gardiner, Richard Lee of New Zealand and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
"I putted well today. That's a good feeling. I've been waiting for my putting stroke to come back and I'm happy with that,'' said Singh.