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Hong Kong: Six year after staring death in the face, Korea’s Young Nam was enjoying life at the UBS Hong Kong Open.


The 37-year-old made  the most of his sponsor’s invitation to the US$2.5 million showpiece by firing a five-under-par 65 in the opening round on Thursday for tied sixth place, three behind leader Mark Brown of New Zealand.


Nam shot seven birdies against a double bogey on the demanding 18th hole at the Hong Kong Golf Club and was thoroughly delighted with his effort in the co-sanctioned Asian Tour and European Tour event.


“I'm just happy. UBS gave me the sponsor's invite, so I'm just hoping I can use it wisely and play well,” said Nam. “There's always pressure but I just came out here to enjoy myself. This week, especially, getting a sponsor's invite, I just told myself, you know what, let's put an effort and make this sponsor's invite worth it.”


Nam was diagnosed with spinal meningitis in 2004 and doctors told him there was a 50 per cent chance of the disease being fatal. But after undergoing surgery, he took three years to recover before playing in tournaments on the Asian Tour again.


But in the ensuing years, the Korean, who has three professional wins but none on the Asian Tour, struggled to find his form, especially with the driver.


“I’ve been hitting it well but I've always had driver problems back when I was sick for a while. I had my yips and it's always been in my head. After the illness, when you shoot 90s all the time and you're trying to hang in there with your tee shot, it sort of gets to your head but now I'm starting to hit it really well again. It's just once in a while the tee shot creeps in there,” he said.


“In Singapore last week, I was five under and all of the sudden, I just had a brain lapse and it just killed me. I hit it out of bounds three times on the third hole and got a nine and it kicked me out of the tournament.


“I'm hitting my irons really well. I doubled 18 to shoot five under. I missed a lot of short putts and I made one long putt, so it sort of evens out.”


Another player who enjoyed a run at the leaderboard was Thailand’s Thammanoon Srirot, whose form in recent times has not match his five career victories on the Asian Tour.


But a return to the fabled Hong Kong Golf Club where he has notched a second and fourth place finish in the past has made him feel good about his game, although like Nam, Thammanoon has had trouble with his driver in recent years.


“On the front nine my driving was solid and I shot five birdies in a row which was nice. Hit it really close for those birdies but on 16, I tried to cut my tee shot around the trees but put a bad swing in and found the trees for bogey,” said the Thai.


“I always seem to play well in Hong Kong. I keep having the tendency of hitting a push slice if my downswing goes wrong. I might also put in a second driver in the bag tomorrow to try and hit more fairways,” he said.


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