India’s Anirban Lahiri leads Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez by two shots after the first round of the Omega European Masters while two Americans, Berry Henson and Brooks Koepka, are in the top 20 Thursday.
A three-time winner on the Asian Tour, which co-sanctions the European Tour event at Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, Lahiri shot 63 Thursday on the strength of eagles at Nos. 14 and 18 – holing out on the latter, a 402-yard par 4, to finish his round.
“It’s nice to be back with a bang,” said Lahiri, who opened this tournament last year with a 66 before shooting 81 to miss the cut. “Obviously, a tough pill to swallow last year and I have learned a lot from that.”
Jimenez carded seven birdies against a bogey, while Casey carded an eagle, five birdies and a bogey and Fleetwood carded an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.
Koepka, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour this season and No. 114 in the Official World Golf Ranking, had six birdies and three bogeys – including two in a row before making the turn – en route to a 68 that has him T-12 at 3 under. Henson, No. 393 in the OWGR, shot 67 with five birdies and a bogey.
Matteo Manassero, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 31, opened with a 70 to stand T-46 at 1 under.
Thirteen-year-old amateur Ye Wo-cheng of China opened with a 78, carding three double bogeys in his opening four holes. He birdied the next, then made eight straight pars before bogeying two of his last five holes.
In May, at age 12, Ye became the youngest player to compete on the European Tour when he missed the cut at the Volvo China Open in Tianjin with a pair of 79s.
Jimenez sounded off a bit Wednesday: “It is nice to see that golf is interesting no matter what the age but for me, a 13-year-old competing against professionals is a little a bit too young,” he said. “People want to start things too early and a 13-year-old should be playing alongside other 13-year-olds and not players averaging 33 years of age.
“No doubt the sponsor wants publicity for the tournament. But then it seems you have to go looking for under-age players to promote yourself. I’m sorry, this should not be allowed. . . .
“They should not be pushing kids his age too hard as it could have a disastrous effect on their careers,” he said. “I hope he enjoys himself this week. But then I saw him hitting practice balls this morning, and he looked very nervous and he should not be in that position.”
Mathias Gronberg of Sweden, age 43 and this tournament’s champion in 1995, countered Jimenez’ opinion Wednesday.
“It’s going to be awesome playing with the young fellow and I will look forward to it,” Gronberg said. “It is where the game is at the present time and, as golfers, we are in the entertainment business and it’s a sport there for the crowds.
“I am sure there will be hundreds of thousands of Chinese people that will tune into the golf on TV this week just to watch and follow Ye. So it would be absolutely silly not to market that opportunity.”
– The Associated Press contributed