Gaganjeet Bhullar charged into a two-shot lead at the Indonesia Open after an opening seven-under-par 64 on Thursday.
In a country where he won his first Asian Tour title in 2009, the tenacious Indian, who is playing in his tenth straight event, held an edge over the chasing pack after shooting a flawless round highlighted by seven birdies at the US$ 750,000 Asian Tour event.
Young guns Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand and Nicholas Fung of Malaysia, who finished tied fifth in the Philippines two weeks ago, continued to shine, staying two shots back from Bhullar.
They are tied for second alongside Americans Anthony Kang and Berry Henson, Korean Mo Joong-kyung and Malaysia’s Shaaban Hussin at the Pantai Indah Kapuk course at Damai Indah Golf.
Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, a three-time Order of Merit winner, was a further shot behind in tied eighth, while two-time Major champion Retief Goosen of South Africa struggled to a 72 for tied 59th.
Playing in Indonesia has brought out the best in Bhullar, who missed only one fairway and was equally dominant on the greens, where he made 27 putts.
Ranked sixth on the Order of Merit, Bhullar burst into the sole lead when he sank five straight birdies from the fourth hole.
“The way I’ve been striking the ball from the first tee, I knew I could go low because my striking was right up there. Once my putts started falling, that’s when I went really low,” said the four-time Asian Tour winner.
He insists that he is prepared to make amends after finishing last among the elite 60-man field at the World Cup of Golf in Australia last week.
“Mentally I know that I always try to win every tournament I play in. I didn’t play bad at all last week. It was just a matter of a few bad bounces. I wasn’t upset with my performance because I was hitting the ball good. It is only a matter of time before my short game improved and it happened today,” said Bhullar.
Jazz, who celebrated his 18th birthday four days ago, continued his encouraging form and was motivated by the splendid performance by his playing partner Bhullar.
“Playing in the same group as Gaganjeet helped me because he motivated me to play well. My result in Manila has given me a lot of confidence coming into this week,” said Jazz, who carded six birdies against one bogey.
Kang, a three-time Asian Tour winner but not since 2009, stayed in touch with the leader after battling to a round of six birdies and one bogey.
“I find the course to be very difficult so I’m very happy with my round. There have been a few hits and misses but overall, my game is in shape. I’ve made five consecutive cuts so hopefully I can continue to play well,” said Kang.
Scores after Round 1:
64 - Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND).
66 - Jazz Janewattananond (THA), Anthony Kang (USA), MoO Joong-kyung (KOR), Nicholas Fung (MAS), Berry Henson (USA), Shaaban Hussin (MAS).
67 - Sam Brazel (AUS), David Lipsky (USA), Sujjan Singh (IND), Prom Meesawat (THA), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Chapchai Nirat (THA).
68 - Kim Gi-whan (KOR), Rory Hie (INA), Zaw Moe (MYN), Chan Kim (USA), Carlos Pigem (ESP), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Lionel Weber (FRA), Chris Rodgers (ENG).
69 - Dodge Kemmer (USA), Kalle Samooja (FIN), Jyoti Randhawa (IND), Chawalit Plaphol (THA), Kwanchai Tannin (THA), Namchok Tantipokhakul (THA), David Lutterus (AUS), Alex Cejka (GER).
Image: Gaganjeet Bhullar
Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images