Photo - Asian Tour
STRONG START FOR ASIAN TOUR DUO AT MASTERS TOURNAMENT
It was virtually Korean Day in the opening round of the Masters Tournament with Asian Tour honorary members Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi sending the Korean flag to the near top of the Augusta National flagpole.
Yang put himself in contention to win back-to-back Major Championships after a superb five-under-par 67 that was matched later in the day by Choi to lie one shot off behind leader Fred Couples.
The Korean duo were among five players on 67 in the blustery and overcast conditions in what is the year’s opening Major. Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand returned a 74.
Yang, Asia’s first Major champion after his triumph at the PGA Championship last August, collected six birdies for his best round at the Masters while the in-form Choi, who outscored playing partner Tiger Woods by one shot, ended his day in near darkness after a round highlighted by four straight birdies from the 13th hole.
Former Masters champion Couples continued his sterling season after posting a remarkable 66 to lead the 74th staging of the Masters. The American veteran, winner of the 1992 edition, arrived in Augusta for his 26th appearance, having won three events in succession on the Champions Tour.
“It just seemed to me that everything came to me very comfortably. I have set my personal record on the course this round, so it feels good, really. And hopefully I can sustain this. I don't want to be too aggressive and I just want to sustain this going into tomorrow and hopefully to the weekend,” said Yang, who is Asia’s first Major champion.
He got his round off to a bright start when he birdied the par five second hole before the only bogey of his round at the par four seventh hole where he missed a three-footer.
The 38-year old Seoul golfer, who is contesting the Masters for a third occasion, then birdied two holes in succession from the ninth hole including a 32-foot gem at the downhill par four 10th.
Yang then birdied a further two holes in a row from the par three, 12th where he hit an eight iron to 10 feet before moving to five under par when he rolled in a birdie putt at the par five, 15th.
The effort is easily Yang’s lowest Augusta score in seven rounds of the fabled Georgia venue and also the first occasion he has broken 70. His previous best score was a 73.
“I started off trying to focus on making par on every hole because it was windy and the forecast said it was going to rain,” he said. “I saved par on the first hole and then birdied the second and it felt good, so I thought I was going to probably have a comfortable afternoon.
“Then on the seventh hole, I bogeyed it, and it rattled me a bit but that was quickly revised because I made a birdie on nine. Then on towards the back nine, I played quite well,” said Yang.
Choi, who is contesting his eighth Masters, also posted his lowest ever Augusta score that was two strokes fewer than a prior low of a 69 in round two on his debut in 2003 and then again on the final day a year later where he finished third behind Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee also recorded his lowest round at Augusta despite recording a two over par effort to lie in tied 50th place.
The triple Asian Tour number one birdied the opening hole but then dropped shots at his sixth, eighth and 12th holes to fall to three-over par. But a birdie at the par five 15th hole brought a smile to the face of the 40-year old from where he ended with three straight pars.
“I had a very good start to my round but from thereon, it was very tough as the wind was very strong and it started to rain on parts of the course,” he said.
“But today was just so different to the practice rounds and it was really a matter of trying to keep the bogeys off the scorecard. I am happy enough with a 74 and out much earlier tomorrow so hopefully I can pick up a few more birdies and make the cut which would be nice.”
Sharing second place with Yang and Choi are 60-year-old Tom Watson, winner at Augusta in 1977 and 1981, along with fellow Masters former champion Phil Mickelson and Europe’s number one Lee Westwood of England.
Woods, who played alongside Choi, watched in despair as his four-foot birdie putt at the last lipped-out to be among a group 68. Vijay Singh of Fiji, who is an Asian Tour honorary member, carded a 76.