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CHOI CHARGES TO THE TOP AT UBS HONG KONG OPEN

Hong Kong, November 15: Korean stalwart Choi Kyung-ju enjoyed his best start at the UBS Hong Kong Open when he blasted an eight-under-par 62 for a one stroke lead in the opening round on Thursday.



    Choi has been enjoying a superb spell on the US PGA Tour this season chalking up two wins and continued his run at the Hong Kong Golf Club firing nine birdies against a lone dropped shot in the US$2.25 million event.

     Garry Houston of Wales was a stroke behind after a 63 while Swedish duo Fredrik Andersson Hed and Robert Karlsson fired matching 64s in joint third position at the tournament co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.

     Former winner from Korea Kang Wook-soon, the two time Asian number one, was tied alongside Scotland's Barry Hume and Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez as the trio fired similar 65s in tied fifth place. Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Chapchai Nirat, Korea's Lee Sung, American Anthony Kang, Scott Strange of Australia, Sweden's Daniel Chopra and Mathias Gronberg, Frenchman Gregory Havret, Argentinean Daniel Vancsik and Ireland's Gary Murphy were all in joint eighth position after posting matching 66s.

     Choi, with three wins on the Asian Tour, was three under after 10 holes but thanks to a solid pair of hands on the greens, the 37-year-old star blasted five birdies in a row on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes which steered him clear of the chasing pack in the opening round.

     "I started getting my rhythm on the 10th hole which required an accurate drive. Then, on the back nine, I was very comfortable with my strokes. I parred the 11th and then I had a good birdie on the 12th hole and I felt like I was getting back to rhythm again. The greens in Houston are similar to the ones here, bermuda greens, and it was great teamwork too with my caddie (Rusty Uresti)," said Choi, who is based in Texas.

     "It's the first time I've shot a 62 here, so I'm very happy. I expected the greens to be softer so that helped as well. A lot of players had a tough time reading the greens, but I was quite comfortable out there and my putting was solid throughout the round," added Choi.

     Starting on the back nine, Houston, 36, was in the lead with Choi on eight under before dropping a shot on the final ninth hole.

     "I putted very well on the front nine there, my back nine. I was disappointed to finish with a bogey but the greens can come up and get you round here, they are very grainy and that one happened to get me but overall I am very pleased," said Houston.

     In joint fifth place was Kang who felt right at home competing on a course which is similar to his home course at Anyang Benest in Seoul.

     "The conditions here are really good. A lot depends on your putting and my putting today was spot on. I holed almost anything within 11 yards so overall I am very pleased with my round.

     "I enjoy playing on this course. The fairways are small with big trees all around. I like playing on mature courses. It is similar to my home course back in Seoul so I am quite comfortable playing here," said Kang, who won the tournament back in 1998.

     Thongchai, who finished joint third last year, was pleased with his round after a steady round with his new set of irons this week.

      "I've got a new set of Callaway irons, same ones Phil Mickelson used last week. I got it in Monday and used it for practice and I like it. This new set gives the ball more flight and ball control so it is great, I love it," said the Thai, with eight wins on the Asian Tour.

     England's Nick Faldo carded a 68 in tied 30th spot alongside China's Liang Wen-chong who leads the Asian Tour's UBS Order of Merit race. Defending champion Jose Manuel Lara of Spain was in joint 50th place after a 69 alongside Canadian Mike Weir, Frankie Minoza of the Philippines, Thai youngster Chinarat Phadungsil and Thaworn Wiratchant, S.S.P Chowrasia of India and Singapore's Mardan Mamat.

  

Leading first round scores

62 - Choi Kyung-ju (KOR)

63 - Garry Houston (WAL)

64 - Robert Karlsson (SWE), Fredrik Andersson Hed (SWE)

65 - Kang Wook-soon (KOR), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Barry Hume (SCO)

66 - Gary Murphy (IRL), Lee Sung (KOR), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Daniel Chopra (SWE), Chapchai Nirat (THA), Daniel Vancsik (ARG), Gregory Havret (FRA), Scott Strange (AUS), Mathias Gronberg (SWE), Anthony Kang (USA)

67 - Unho Park (AUS), Shiv Kapur (IND), Marc Warren (SCO), Jason Knutzon (USA), Anders Hansen (DEN), Gary Orr (SCO), Ricardo Gonzalez (ARG), Graeme Mcdowell (NIR), Charlie Wi (KOR), Keith Horne (RSA), Chawalit Plaphol (THA), Marcus Fraser (AUS)


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