MELBOURNE: Defending champion Ian Poulter and Adam Scott fired an ominous warning to their rivals yesterday, carding 67s to lurk just two shots off the lead after the first round of the Australian Masters.
Little-known Australian Matthew Guyatt was the surprise early leader, hitting a seven-under-par 65 in benign conditions at Kingston Heath in Melbourne.
Fellow Australian Scott and England’s Poulter, tied for second with New Zealand’s Michael Hendry, were disappointed they did not take full advantage of the easy conditions despite their solid showings.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen afternoon conditions like we had out there today,” said Ryder Cup hero Poulter, who won the WGC-HSBC Champions in China earlier this month.
“You had to take advantage of it.... Five-under is acceptable but if you play well on this golf course in conditions like we had today you’ll have many birdie opportunities.” Poulter’s only blemish came at the 16th hole where he said he “made a pig’s ear of it” before making an up-and-down for bogey from 60 yards.
The Englishman said he would like to see blustery conditions for the rest of the tournament, adding: “This is a very tricky golf course when the wind blows and I play well in the wind.” World number five Scott, chasing his first tournament win of the year, felt he could have shot nine or 10 under but for a frustrating number of birdie putts lipping out on his front nine.
But the Australian made amends on the back nine, coming home in five-under 31.
“Kingston Heath’s defenses were down today and I felt there was a really low score out there for me today,” he said. “I didn’t get rewarded for my play on the front nine,” he said.
“It’s a good start but you need four good days to win,” said Scott, whose year will be defined by his meltdown in this year’s British Open, where he blew a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Royal Lytham.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell shot 71 and said playing partner Scott made the course look extremely easy.
“I didn’t adapt very well to the conditions, but all in all, I struck the ball well although the putter could be heated up a little bit more. But it was a decent start,” McDowell said.
Guyatt, who spent three years out of the game in the early 2000s, said his game had benefited from the input of sports psychologist Karl Morris, who works with a number of the game’s leading players, including McDowell.
“Karl has turned me around as far as pre-shot routine and staying in the moment,” he said.
A group of six Australian players were tied for fifth, including Peter O’Malley, a three-time winner on the European Tour.
McIlroy makes poor start
In Fanling, Hong Kong, tiredness caught up with Rory McIlroy yesterday and the world golf No.1 could shoot only a three-over-par 73 on the opening day of the Hong Kong Open.
McIlroy, who this week became only the second player to win the money-list titles in both Europe and the United States, admitted that he was exhausted after a year in which he has won four titles, including the US PGA championship, and helped Europe to win the Ryder Cup.
“I was struggling a little bit with my energy levels; I felt lethargic,” the Northern Irishman said after a round in which he produced one birdie.
“I think after clinching the Race to Dubai it was always going to be a little bit of a letdown. I tried hard to lift myself after what happened but that gets harder when you are feeling a bit tired.” McIlroy was not helped by playing late in the day when the Fanling course was affected by a tricky wind swirling through the trees.
Javier Colomo, who plays on the Asian Tour, took the lead with a six-under-par 64.
His fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was a member of the European Tour before the 23-year-old McIlroy was born, shot a 65. Should he win his third Hong Kong Open on Sunday at the age of 48 years and 318 days he would become the oldest winner on the European Tour.
The record is held by Irishman Des Smyth who was 48 years and 34 days old when he won the 2001 Madeira Island Open.
Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal moved into a share of fourth place with a 66.
Colomo started out by plying his trade on the European Challenge Tour but lost his playing rights so went to the Asian Tour School last year.
The 28-year-old has had three top-10 finishes this year and has earned promotion into bigger tournaments in 2013.
“Now I am 33rd in the Asian rankings and that’s perfect because next year I will be playing in all the tournaments co-sanctioned with the European Tour,” he said.