COOLUM, Australia — Steven Bowditch and Choi Joon-woo shot rounds of 6-under 66 Thursday to take a one-stroke lead after the first day of the Australian PGA and outshine a strong field that includes British Open champion Darren Clarke and Americans Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.
Bowditch, playing in intermittent afternoon rain, birdied the 17th and 18th holes after a bogey on No. 16 at the Hyatt Regency resort course. Choi, who plays on the OneAsia tour and has no wins in a four-year pro career, had a chip-in from 90 meters for eagle on the 16th hole.
Watson and Australians Andre Stolz, Aaron Townsend and Aaron Baddeley had 67s, while Wu Kangchun of China was in a large group with 68s. Clarke and Fowler were three behind after 69s.
Three International teammates at last week’s Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne — Australia’s Jason Day and South Koreans K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang, also shot 69. U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft started strongly, but shot 76 after back-to-back double bogeys on the back nine.
Clarke was in the same group as Adam Scott (70) and Greg Norman (72). Scott made a huge recovery from his opening 40 — including a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 11th — to shoot 6-under 30 coming home.
Defending champion Peter Senior shot 70 and fellow Australian Geoff Ogilvy a 72.
Bowditch, a Sunshine Coast local who has been playing the Coolum course for 15 years, said “it’s in the best shape it’s ever been in.”
“They’ve narrowed a few fairways, the greens are firm and fast,” said Bowditch, who made a 25-footer for birdie on 18 but had two three-puts on his first three holes.
He’ll leave on Monday for the final six rounds of the U.S. PGA Tour qualifying school in California.
“I’m in a fortunate situation, I have conditional status for 15 to 20 starts next year, and I’ve also got Nationwide,” Bowditch said. “The pressure will still be there, though.”
Scott had a rollercoaster of a round — nine birdies, a triple bogey, a double bogey and two bogeys. After a birdie on the 10th to open his round, his 6 on the par-3 third came after a ball in the water, one of three he plunked into ponds on his first nine.
“I played a little too aggressive on those opening holes, then after that, I had to play aggressive,” Scott said. “This is the kind of course where you can make birdies, but if you hit bad shots at bad places, it can really hurt you.”
Watson’s 67 included a bogey on the par-5 third and birdies on two of the par-3 holes on the front nine, his last. He came to Coolum from Melbourne, where he played in the winning U.S. team at the Presidents Cup.
“I’m not fresh, I’m dead tired,” Watson said. “You just have to try to fight through it. I lost my last two matches, so I don’t have much confidence coming in. Tomorrow I could come out exhausted and shoot 80.”
Clarke is playing at Coolum for the first time.
“I made a couple of silly plays because I don’t know the course and that is where it cost me,” said Clarke, who arrived on Monday from Northern Ireland. “It is a long way from home and I’m a little bit tired, the jetlag got me, but I’ll have a good rest and get ready for tomorrow.”
Clarke had a bird’s-eye view of playing partner Scott’s up-and-down round.
“He was shocking at the start and then he played fantastic,” Clarke said. “Great performance to come back and shoot 2-under.”