David Higgins lost his full card last year because he did not take full advantage of the courses that really suited his game.
But he’s determined not to make the same mistake again this season and a six under 64 in the first round of the Hong Kong Open was just the start he needed to a season that promises to be tougher than ever for the Waterville veteran.
Likely to struggle to get more than 15 starts on his category, the 41-year old needs to hit the ground running if he is to have any chance of competing with the new generation of bombers.
And he did precisely that at a fast and firm Fanling, playing to his strengths of accurate driving, controlled iron play and deft short game skills to reel off nine birdies and lead by one stroke on six under par.
Delighted,” Higgins said after his round. “It’s a tough track. If you go slightly off that’s the difference between birdie and bogey so I am delighted with that.
“It was great. I just played solid tee to green holed some lovely putts and had a chip in. It’s my kind of course. You have to be very precise with your iron shots. You have to be a good putter, have a good short game and keep it on the fairway. It suits me perfectly.
“It’s the type of course I grew up playing. It is almost linksy. You have to be careful as the ball runs out and runs off the edges of greens. It’s a good course for me.
“Even with little pitch shots, you can let them run out. It is as close to an inland links as you will get. You have to have a good imagination around the greens.”
Higgins lost his European Tour card by less than €20,000 last year but on a course where accuracy is crucial, he knows this is a chance he must take.
“It is a good course for me because it rewards a guy who hits that fairway and that is the strong part of my game. You are going at tough pins with seven and eight irons and that suits me.”
The course is reminiscent of Golf Club Torino, where Higgins finished joint second last season’s Italian Open to give himself a great chance of retaining his card.
In the end, he failed to complete the job in his last three events of the season, which is why he’s not counting any chickens in Hong Kong just yet.
“This is a great start,” he said. “I still have a long way to go, so we won’t get ahead of ourselves, but I’m delighted with today.”
“If you’re going to have a score like that you have to do some good stuff. You’ve got to use your imagination; let it run out a little bit, maybe use a slope here and there, so it’s good for me. It’s a great test of golf.
“I played quite well on Tour at the end of last season, so I’ve come here in decent form and I’ve been working hard.
“The end of the year was disappointing for me because I didn’t keep my full playing rights, but I still have some. I’m going to have chances and every time I have a chance I need to make the most of it – this is a good start.
“You get on a course and hole some putts and you’re going to have a good score and I did that, so it’s time to push on and have a decent week here.”
Italy’s Challenge Tour winner Andrea Pavan is a shot further back after a five under par 65, with seven players sharing third on a congested leaderboard.
In theory, the course should also suit Waterford rookie Kevin Phelan and while he made more bogeys than he might have liked, a level par 70 left him just inside the cut mark.
The 23-year old was two over par for his round with just three holes to play but birdied the 16th and 17th to get back to level par in another confidence-boosting performance.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie could not say the same after failing to make a birdie in a seven over par 77 and after a year to forget, he will almost be relieved to head home early to re-group for the start of 2014 having held on to his card by the skin of his teeth in 2013.
The opening day was marred by some monumental confusion over the two-tee start with players failing to make it to the 11th, rather than the 10th.
The luckiest man in the field was Joel Sjholm, who slept through several alarms, woke up less than 30 minutes before his tee time but somehow made it to the course and shot a two under 68.
But there was no such luck for Finland’s Joonas Granberg, who dis qualified in bizarre circumstances.
As PA’s Phil Casey reports:
Granberg was due to tee off at 11:50am local time from the 11th hole, but initially went to the first tee before realising his mistake.The 26-year-old then dashed to the 11th tee only to find his caddie had gone to the 10th tee - the more usual starting place for a two-tee start - instead.Rule 6-3a states that if a player arrives at his starting point, within five minutes after his starting time, he is given a two-shot penalty. Otherwise, the penalty for a breach of the rule is disqualification.
“Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm also almost fell victim to the same rule, arriving on the first tee with moments to spare and having to play the first hole without his golf shoes.
“I set six alarm clocks this morning and woke up in desperation at 7:58am, tee time was 8:30am and we live a good 25 minutes from here so I was panicking to the tee box,” Sjoholm told European Tour Radio.
“I was lucky to get a taxi pretty quickly and the European Tour helped me out big time because I showed up without any golf shoes on because they were in the locker. They went to the locker for me and I played the first hole in sneakers until I came up to the green when they were standing nicely there with two pairs of shoes so I could pick. It was the royal treatment!
“It felt quite awkward and when I was standing over the first tee shot I realised I hadn’t even tied the laces on my sneakers, which are a half size too big as well.
“I managed to scramble a four on the first; the whole day I have just been waiting to make a bogey and it happened on the last hole. I am happy I shot minus two, I should not even be here. I am really happy at the moment. Maybe I should do it more often because it’s a long time since I started that good.”