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Hong Kong: New Zealand’s Mark Brown produced the lowest round of his career with a sizzling eight-under-par 62 to lead the first round of the US$2.5 million UBS Hong Kong Open on Thursday.


Brown, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, was flawless at the Hong Kong Golf Club as he sank eight birdies to edge ahead of young Irish star Rory McIlroy and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh, who carded matching 63s.


A further shot back was former Hong Kong Open champion Simon Dyson of England, who fired a hole-in-one at the 12then route to a 64 to share fourth place with Dane Soren Hansen. Dyson earned US$10,000 worth of UBS shares.


Korea’s Young Nam, who faced a bleak future six years ago after being diagnosed with spinal meningitis, made full use of his sponsor’s invitation, returning a fine 65 to lie alongside US Open champion and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Rhys Davies of Wales, England’s Oliver Wilson and Damien McGrane of Ireland.


Brown was delighted to upstage the stars of the game at the UBS Hong Kong Open, which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour. “A good day … it was kind of a bit of a surprise after my form over the last two months, but a good surprise,” said the Kiwi, who has missed eight cuts in his last 11 tournaments.


Wielding a hot putter, he reached eight under through 13 holes and admitted the thought of shooting the first ever 59 on both Tours flashed across his mind. “It kind of did. I birdied four to go eight‑under and the fifth hole, I hit a beautiful shot to five or six feet and thought if I can knock that in and get to nine‑under with four holes to play, it was a possibility. But I missed the putt and then didn't really give myself many makeable chances to finish off. So that went out the window pretty quickly,” he said.


Since winning back-to-back titles in Asia in 2008, which earned him playing rights in Europe, the 35-year-old fell off the radar just as quickly as he rose to fame. But hooking up with childhood friend Shane Kuiti, a coach based in neighbouring Shenzhen, as his caddie this week has brought about a fresh outlook in Brown’s game.


“I grew up with him at my home course in New Zealand. He sort of got me back to a few things that I used to do when I was young, swing‑wise, and we just worked on a few of those things at the start of the week and it seems to be working,” said Brown.


The 21-year-old McIlroy, who has finished runner-up in the last two editions of the UBS Hong Kong Open, showed his intent of winning the title with an impressive round that include eight birdies against a lone bogey.


The conditions were perfect for scoring early on. There was not a breath of wind and when the greens are that good in the morning, you can take advantage of it, and that's what I was able to do,” said McIlroy, who is sporting a blonde-coloured hairdo this week.


McIlroy’s only bogey came on the sixth hole, his 15th of the day through an errant drive which saw him hit his second shot left-handed. But he bounced back with two birdies over his last three holes. “You always feel as if you can do better. I really should have birdied the third hole, the par five. I let one go at six. But you can't have everything,” said McIlroy.


Singh, Asia’s number one in 2006 and 2008, turned in one under but his game lit up with a superb inward 30. “The front nine is a tougher nine and I didn't hole many putts. And on the back nine, I made a lot of putts, hit the ball well and you know, shot six‑under and I will take a seven‑under on this golf course.”


It was a welcome return to form for the Indian star, who is an Asian Tour honorary member as his season was blighted by injuries which saw him struggle in America. “I'm feeling good, my shoulder is getting better but it's not 100 per cent.  I've been getting a lot of work done with the physios,” he said.


Dyson, champion in Hong Kong in 2000 when he won the Asian Tour Order of Merit, sank his ace with a pitching wedge. It was his third career hole in one as a professional.


“I got off to a good start, parred 10 and missed the green on 11. I was only about six yards from the pin and managed to chip‑in. So that was a nice start and then it got even better at the next. Perfect yardage, no wind, perfect wedge, straight down the flag, pitched it to about a foot short and just rolled out and dropped in the hole,” said Dyson.


Title holder Gregory Bourdy launched his defence with a 66 for tied 12th place with amongst others, reigning Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee and Thammanoon Srirot, both of Thailand and Korea’s Mo Joong-kyung.


Leading first round scores

62 - Mark Brown (NZL)

63 - Rory McIlroy (NIR), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND)

64 - Simon Dyson (ENG), Soren Hansen (DEN)

65 - Graeme McDowell (NIR), Damien McGrane (IRL), Young Nam (KOR), Rhys Davies (WAL), Oliver Wilson (ENG), Kenneth Ferrie (ENG)

66 - David Horsey (ENG), Richie Ramsay (SCO), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Mo Joong-kyung (KOR), Thammanoon Srirot (THA), Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Tano Goya (ARG), Anders Hansen (DEN), David Howell (ENG), Jamie Donaldson (WAL), Ricardo Gonzalez (ARG)

67 - Lee Sung (KOR), Hennie Otto (RSA), Ian Poulter (ENG), Marcus Both (AUS), Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR), Bradley Dredge (WAL), Gareth Maybin (NIR), Anirban Lahiri (IND), David Drysdale (SCO), Matteo Manassero (ITA), Udorn Duangdecha (THA), Mardan Mamat (SIN), Kodai Ichihara (JPN), Juvic Pagunsan (PHI), James Morrison (ENG), Anthony Kang (USA)


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