Damien McGrane might not be as deadly as he once was on the greens but the Kells man was pleased with his form with the blade as he opened with a five under 67 in the Volvo China Open.
Less than a week after celebrating his 41st birthday, McGrane had six birdies on his card at Binhai Golf Club’s Lakes Course, taking just 27 putts as he finished the day two strokes behind leader Matthew Baldwin of England in a share of eighth.
“I played lovely and steady today and my short game was good and my putting was good and I had a couple of crucial up and downs for pars which kept my momentum going,” McGrane told European Tour Radio’s Nick Dye.
“I made a couple of nice birdies on the back nine there as well to get me from three under back up to five under so that I was nice. I just played solid all day. I holed the putts I should have holed, I suppose and I had a great up and down on the last for par which was crucial.”
McGrane won his lone European Tour title to date with a nine-stroke victory in the Volvo China Open at Beijing CBD International in 2008. This year’s venue is the seventh new course to host the event but while the Pete Dye course measures a frightening 7,667 yards off the back tees, it was shortened considerably for Thursday’s opening round.
McGrane certainly appeared at home as he went to the turn in three under with birdies at the first, fifth and eighth. He moved to five under with back to back birdies at the 11th and 12th and then followed a bogey at the par-three 13th with a birdie at the 17th and that save at the par-five 18th.
Asked if the course was up his street, McGrane said: “Maybe, maybe not. But it is China and I like coming here and I have good memories here. I go out there and concentrate well and generally play steady.
“There are plenty of good combinations here for me. I always come back here with a smile on my face. It is nice to be here and nice to be playing well and start off with a decent score, which is important.
“The fairways are generous but you have to putt very well in China, I always find. I putted solid so I am happy with that.”
Second behind Michael Hoey in the Trophée Hassan II three weeks ago, McGrane was pleased to see that he was still in form.
“I played nicely in Morocco but I have had three weeks off since then so it is nice to feel that I still have some good golf in me,” he said. “The [break] fresh air was nice but three weeks is a long time so to come back and find a bit of form was pleasant.”
Challenge Tour graduate Baldwin shot an immaculate seven under par 65 to lead by one from Joost Luiten, Gary Boyd, Scott Strange Fredrik Andersson Hed and the consistent Jbe Kruger with McGrane in a seven-man logjam for eight place.
Peter Lawrie also showed a welcome return to form with the putter after last year’s struggles as he had just 26 putts in a three under 69. The Dubliner has had an erratic start to the season and made just three cuts from his first seven starts to lie 130th in the Race to Dubai standings.
Having opened with a 64 in Sicily in his last start before fading to 19th, Lawrie will certainly be hoping to build on his sub par start this time around.
Shane Lowry was not quite at his sharpest around the greens as he mixed three bogeys with four birdies in a one under 71 that left him tied for 61st with Gareth Maybin, who birdied his 15th, 16th and 17th holes to turn a poor round into an acceptable one.
It was a day to forget, however, for Morocco winner Hoey as he used the putter 34 times and failed to make a birdie in a two over 74.