Indian golf ace Shiv Kapur eclipsed his more illustrious playing partners, Fred Couples and Craig Parry, with an impressive four-under-par 68 in the Johnnie Walker Classic on Thursday.
Kapur, last year's rookie of the year and ninth on the UBS Order of Merit, accumulated five birdies against a lone bogey at The Vines Resort and Country Club, three shots better than Couples, a former US Masters winner, and matching Parry, one of Australia's greats.
Two three-putt pars on the par five 10th and 18th holes left a bitter taste in the mouth for the reigning Volvo Masters of Asia winner but Kapur enjoyed his moment in the spotlight playing with two giants of the game.
"It's a shame to three putt the last for par. Anytime you finish the round badly just leaves a bad tastes but I'll come out tomorrow and go low again," said Kapur.
It was by far his best opening round in four tournaments as he endured two 75s and a 77 in three tournaments in the Middle East. "It's my best round by eight shots. I didn't think like that all. I went out with two great players and started learning how it is done. Anytime you play with guys who are playing well and with that calibre, it's going to feed off to you. Automatically, it ups your game," said Kapur.
"They were both great, really encouraging and very nice to play with. I was very nervous to start with because you're playing with guys you grew up idolising and they are just normal guys at the end of the day. We chatted quite a bit and I enjoyed it.
"It's a good course, a good test. It tests every part of your game. You have to be very straight off the tee and the greens are where the battle is, especially when it gets harder, firmer and faster. The challenge is going to get harder but I like it. It suits my game and if I striking the ball well, I'm not a long hitter, you have to keep it straight here."
While he had five birdies on the card, Kapur was thrilled to make a big par save on 15. His drive that split the fairway had picked up mud and his approach landed in a difficult land in the greenside bunker. But he blasted out to four feet and saved par. He then birdied the next hole.
"I had a bad break there, a lot of mud on my ball on the fairway and it squirted into a dodgy lie in the bunker but I made a great save," said Kapur.
Adam Scott of Australia launched his title defence in imperious style, shooting a blistering eight-under-par 64 for the joint first round lead with American Kevin Stadler.
The 25-year-old Scott, aiming to become the first player to enjoy a repeat victory in the history of the Johnnie Walker Classic, finished off his round with three closing birdies at The Vines Resort and Country Club in a round that included five other birdies and one eagle.
Stadler, whose father Craig is a former US Masters winner, made the most of a sponsor's invite into this week's elite field with an outstanding round that included six birdies on the trot from the ninth.
Asia's bid to deliver a first Johnnie Walker Classic winner was led by KJ Choi, who opened with a fine 65. The Korean star, a three-time winner on the US PGA Tour, could have ended his day with an outrageous birdie. He hooked his drive at the last hole into water but drilled his third shot to 12th feet of the pin, only to miss the birdie attempt.
Australians Richard Green and Tony Carolan, a Monday qualifier, and flamboyant Frenchman Jean Van De Velde are a stroke further back after matching 66s.
Leading first round scores
64 - Kevin Stadler (USA), Adam Scott (AUS)
65 - K.J. Choi (KOR)
66 - Richard Green (AUS), Jean Van De Velde (FRA), Tony Carolan (AUS)
67 - Brett Rumford (AUS), Nick O'Hern (AUS), Marcus Fraser (AUS), Ewan Porter (AUS)
68 - Christian Cevaer (FRA), Bradley Iles (NZL), Paul Casey (ENG), Terry Pilkadaris (AUS), Shiv Kapur (IND), Craig Parry (AUS), Peter Senior (AUS)
69 - David Diaz (AUS), Gregory Havret (FRA), Eric Egloff (USA), Luke Hickmott (AUS), Alessandro Tadini (ITA), Robert Allenby (AUS), Craig Carmichael (AUS), Lucas Parsons (AUS), Peter O'Malley (AUS), Paul Sheehan (AUS), Ross Fisher (ENG), Richard Bland (ENG)
70 - Scott Drummond (SCO), David Smail (NZL), Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Gary Emerson (ENG), Colin Montgomerie (SCO), Barry Lane (ENG), Richard Lee (NZL), Simon Wakefield (ENG), Stephen Leaney (AUS), Ian Poulter (ENG), Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Scott Gardiner (AUS), Brad Andrews (AUS), Gary Evans (ENG), Joakim Haeggman (SWE), Sam Little (ENG), Mark Foster (ENG), Andrew Marshall (ENG).