September 29, 2016: Korea’s Byeonghun An got his title defence off to a promising start when he opened with a six-under-par 65 to grab the first round lead at the Shinhan Donghae Open on Thursday. Indian golfers Khalin Joshi and Gaganjeet Bhullar played well, sitting just three behind the lead after a first round 68.
Khalin Joshi started at the tenth hole, with an inauspicious bogey. Even though he made amends at the 15th hole, the course put one back on him with a bogey at the 18th hole.
But Khalin Joshi proved to be imperious from there onward. The young Indian golfer shot three birdies in the first four holes of his second nine, before adding another at the ninth hole.
Gaganjeet Bhullar on the other hand made his move on the front nine. He made birdies at the fifth, sixth and ninth holes to coast through his first nine holes in 33 strokes.
On the back nine Gaganjeet Bhullar was dealt a bogey at the tenth hole, but he wiped his slate clean with a birdie at the par-4 13th hole.
Lee Sung, a one-time Asian Tour winner, ensured a strong local presence atop the leaderboard by signing for a 66 to share second place with compatriots Giwhan Kim and Taewoo Kim at the Shinhan Donghae Open which is seeing the return of the Asian Tour as its new sanctioning partner along with the Korean PGA.
Qualifying school graduate Nicholas Paez of the United States together with Thailand’s Thitiphun Chuayprakong and Australia’s Michael Wright led the international charge by returning with a 67 to share fifth place with Koreans Jungho Yoon and Junsung Kim.
Playing alongside Australian Order of Merit leader Scott Hend and New Zealand’s Danny Lee, An was in the first group out on the opening back-nine 10.
The world number 38, who is the highest ranked player this week, had to overcome two early bogey scares on 10 and 11 before he steadied the ship with eight birdies to stay ahead of the chasing pack at the Bears Best Cheongna Golf Club.
“It was a horrible start as I didn’t hit it well. I was a little nervous, 7am was also a bit early in the morning.
“This is the first round, first hole of the tournament and I always worry about it the day before, like whether I’m going to shoot a 80 today. But once I got that out of my mind, I knew it was going to be okay,” said An.
The Olympian started to plot his way back with three successive birdies starting from the par-five 14.
He then continued his birdie blitz in his inward-nine with five birdies to stake his claim as the first round leader.
“I like this course as I know there are many birdie opportunities out there so I tried to grind my way to make the par and slowly I got more confidence with my swing and putting.
“Once I started making those birdies, the momentum got going and I knew it would continue once I continue to start rolling those birdie putts into the hole,” said An.
Lee took advantage of his home familiarity to power his way towards the top of the leaderboard with a 66 that saw him trail An by a single shot.
“I haven’t played much on the Asian Tour apart from Q School and Bangladesh. No particular reason but I just prefer to play at home in Korea nowadays. If I’m not competing on the domestic Tour, I would spend my time practising and improving my game.
“I played on the course before and I like it. My putting was the key to a good round today and I hope to continue playing the way I did today,” said the 36-year-old.