Chile’s Mito Pereira holed a brilliant chip shot from 20 feet on the par-five 18th for an eagle to fire a 6-under 66 and a share of the lead at the inaugural St Andrews Bay Championship on Thursday, with five other players on the opening day.
Spaniard David Puig – his Torque GC team-mate on the LIV Golf League – Indians Anirban Lahiri and Veer Ahlawat, South African Jaco Ahlers, and Andrew Dodt from Australia, shot the same number at Fairmont St Andrews – in an International Series event, on the Asian Tour.
Pereira’s fine finish made his 66 just that bit more special but he also started his round impressively making five birdies in the first six holes, on a sunny day when the wind was relatively subdued.
Said Pereira, who made an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys: “Nice to finish with the three. It all depends on the wind here, you never know, some days are pretty calm, and then you get 30 mile-an-hour winds. Today it was not that windy, at some point it started to blow a lot, I would say it’s the average low wind here. I hope it stays this way.
“This week is the same as all the events, hit well off the tee, be in position and try and make some putts. Today the driver worked pretty well, maybe one bad one.”
This week marks only his third appearance on the Asian Tour as he made his debut on the Tour at the Saudi International in February, where he tied for sixth, and a week later he made his maiden International Series appearance in Oman, finishing joint 11th.
The 28-year-old has forged a winning partnership with compatriot Joaquin Niemann and Puig on the LIV Golf League this season – winning four team titles with Torque.
Puig finished joint fourth in the International Series England last week and was on point again today, impressively making 10 birdies.
“Pretty crazy to make 10 birdies, I have had 10 birdies in a practice round, but I don’t think in a tournament,” said the 21-year-old, who made a double on the par-three 17 and two bogeys.
“I hit an eight iron on 17 but for sure it was a nine. We never saw it bounce and it disappeared, so we went back to the tee but besides that I played very solidly and finished very strong.
“Today was fair, it wasn’t that windy. I think I have some advantage as I think I hit it pretty far, so the holes into the wind I can get to the green easily and the ones that are down wind I can hit it pretty close to the green, like on nine.”
Last year Puig quickly underlined his credentials as one of golf’s most exciting young prospects. Just two months after turning professional in September, he made his Asian Tour debut at the International Series Morocco and claimed third.
“Obviously I am here to win, I am not here to finish third or fourth,” said the Spaniard.
“I am still pretty young. I know I have the game to be up there and win. It will take some time and maybe I wasn’t ready last week, but I am ready for this one. I am looking forward to playing this week and giving myself another chance.”
Lahiri, who was third last week and second in the previous International Series event he played in, in Vietnam, was another to enjoy the mild conditions, although he does not fear the potential for windy weather.
“There are some demanding tee shots, but you just have to grind it out and there are some opportunities that you can take advantage of and makes some birdies,” said the Asian Tour’s number one player in 2015.
“I am really happy we got such nice weather, I wasn’t expecting it. I have played a lot of golf in windy conditions, I played in Europe as well, in fact I actually love playing in wind and especially when the conditions get tough. I like it when you have to grind it out.”
Koreans Seungtaek Lee and Micah Lauren Shin, Ian Snyman from South African, India’s Viraj Madappa, American Dru Luv, Thailand’s Rattanon Wannasrichan, and England’s Matt Killen all came in with 67s.
As did David Rudd, Scotland’s leading player after round one, who made it through the 18-holer qualifier on the Torrance course with the same score last week.
“Hit the ball okay, putted very nicely,” said the 23-year-old, who has been a professional for two years and competed on the MENA Tour this year.
“I missed quite a few greens, so up and down generally was really, really important. I only failed to get up and down once. And I slotted one 50-footer on the par-three fifth. I didn’t think that was going in, so I walked early.”
American Andy Ogletree, who won last week and is the runaway leader on the Asian Tour and International Series Orders of Merit, fired a 70.
England’s Paul Casey returned a 71, while Sergio Garcia from Spain uncharacteristically shot 77, having been three under through seven, before a poor back nine saw him make a double and a triple.