England’s Ian Poulter shot a superb five-under-par 66 to take the first round clubhouse lead at the Barclays Singapore Open.
The flamboyant Ryder Cup star finished strongly with four birdies over his last six holes at the Sentosa Golf Club to lead by one from three-time Major winner Ernie Els of South Africa and unheralded Chan Yih-shin of Chinese Taipei.
A further shot back on 68 were Kodai Ichihara of Japan, Frenchman Thomas Levet and Dane Anders Hansen while American world number two Phil Mickelson holed out from the fairway for an eagle en route to a 69, which was matched by local hero Lam Chih Bing, India’s Jyoti Randhawa and Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang.
A total of 78 players will return on Friday morning to complete their first round after a lightning storm hit Sentosa which led to a three-hour suspension in the afternoon.
Poulter, ranked 21st in the world, is searching for his first win of the year after posting six top-10s and was delighted with his strong start at the Barclays Singapore Open, which is joint-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour for the first time.
“It’s nice to be able to come out fresh after taking some time off in the latter part of the year and now I feel ready to make a move in the next few weeks,” said Poulter, who is a seven-time winner in Europe.
“I haven’t played a round of golf for six weeks so I didn’t really know what to expect but I practised pretty hard to get ready. There were no mistakes on the back nine and I started to hit some good shots to create a few chances with a few holes to play.”
Following two runner-up finishes in Sentosa, Els gave himself another crack at the elusive title with an unblemished four-birdie round. “I felt like I was really in control of my swing. I hit the ball really nicely. Obviously I would have liked to make some more putts,” said the Big Easy.
“I left a lot of puts out there. That’s just the way it has been. I am hitting putts on line but they are not going in. It is a bit of a lull with the putter. Maybe I’ll change putters tomorrow.”
The story of the day belonged to little-known Chan. He was beaming from ear to ear after coming home with a bogey-free card sprinkled by four birdies. He qualified for the Asia’s richest national Open on Monday for the second successive year and is on course to improve on last year’s tied 32nd finish.
“Everything was great, from my putting to my swing. It worked out really well. When I had a chance to attack the pins, I attacked. And my putting was really good and my tee shots put me in good positions,” said Chan, who is ranked 72nd on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.
The local charge was led once again by Lam. After last year’s brush with glory where he played his way into the final group on Sunday before finishing tied 18th, he put himself in prime position again to contend.
He turned in 37 but hit it close to make three birdies coming in. “I’m pretty happy. I struggled towards the middle of the round but finished strongly. Once you get into the rough, it’s really tough to play. I’ll take two-under any day. I played really solid,” said Lam, who is searching for a second Asian Tour win.
“Every week is a different week. What happened last year was good memories but I’m not thinking about that this week. I just hope I can get back into the same position as this time, I think I’ll be able to handle it better.”
Mickelson, hoping to be third time lucky at the Barclays Singapore Open, holed a seven iron approach on the par four 13th hole but his card was spoilt by three bogeys against three birdies.
“It was fun – I did not know it was in (on 13) until I got up there as nobody was at the back of the green,” said the American.
“I could have done a little bit better on the greens but I am getting accustomed to the greens and am putting well. I expect to play better and score better as the week goes on.”