Low visibility delayed the opening morning of the inaugural Shankai Classic presented by IDG by an hour but as the mist lifted – if only just – Paul Maddy (pictured by Getty Images) was left shining brightest at six under par through his first ten holes after darkness halted play.
The Englishman got his round off to the perfect start with an eagle two at the par four third hole, before birdies followed at the fourth, sixth, ninth and tenth, but he will have to return first thing on Friday morning to put the finishing touches to his opening salvo.
Three shots behind are clubhouse leaders Edouard Espana and Antonio Hortal, who both fired rounds of 69 at Chongqing Poly Golf Club in the worst of the early conditions.
For Hortal it was a return to the form that saw him win his first start of the season on home soil at the Challenge de Catalunya, a result that has been the foundation for his 13th place on the European Challenge Tour Rankings, with just four events remaining on the schedule.
All of the players teeing it up this week will have their eyes fixed firmly on a top 15 position within the season-long list, and with plenty of prize money available as part of the US$3,500,000 prize fund, the Spaniard is fully aware that he needs to play well if he is to maintain his position and graduate to The European Tour.
“It was a rainy day and I was not nervous at the start, but I was not too comfortable on the course because of the rain,” said the 25 year old Madrid resident. “I just tried not to miss too many shots, kept finding the greens and holed a few long putts, which helped.
“I don’t like to play in the rain, but today I managed to hit the fairways and greens so I felt pretty comfortable, and today it felt good because I hit it very straight. The greens are a little slow, so three putts are easy if you are not concentrating, but I played well, which was good.
“I am hanging on in there in the top 15 in the Rankings, but I need to play pretty good in these last four tournaments, so this is a good start.”
Alongside Hortal at three under par is Espana, who is arguably playing the best golf of anyone right now on the Challenge Tour, thanks to 13 top 20 finishes in his previous 17 starts.
The last of those came a fortnight ago at the EMC Golf Challenge Open where he posted a career-best tie for third, and unlike many of his competitors in China’s southern region, he revels in the wet conditions that have been forecast to continue over the next few days.
“Three under today, and I played very well,” said the man who missed out by a stroke on his European Tour card at the Qualifying School Final Stage last year after a costly bogey at the last hole. “My putting was good, and the course played very tough because of the rain and no wind, and it was also playing very long, so you needed to hit it far and straight.
“Your putting needs to be good out there too as it is tough to get close to the pins, so you need to hole some long putts to make your birdies. I did that today, so I am very happy.
“I love this weather – really, I love it – because it is tough and you have to fight against the course. I like these kinds of conditions and it showed today as I played well. I’m not sure if I am pleased that the weather is set to be like this all week, as I like good weather too, but we will see.”
Also at three under par, but yet to complete their rounds, are Denmark’s Lasse Jensen and the highest placed home player so far – Hu Mu – while a shot further back are a whole host of players at two under, with plenty unable to complete their first 18 holes.
Cyril Bouniol did his chances of earning a starting berth in The Race to Dubai no harm after a two under par 70 on Thursday. The Texas-based Frenchman is at 18th on the Rankings and needs a big week, as does Alvaro Velasco and Pontus Widegren, at 19th and 24th respectively, with both carding the same score to lie in a tie for sixth so far.
Also on that mark, but yet to finish, are the likes of Byeong-hun An, Yan Bin, Julien Guerrier and Mark Tullo, all of which will have to come back on Friday morning.
On a tricky day in China, former US Amateur Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick had an up and down round, carding just one par on his front nine en route to a level par score of 72 to lie in a tie for 22nd when play was suspended.
Source: European Tour