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Pine Valley Beijing Open – Day 1
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The Pine Valley Beijing Open teed off yesterday, and by the end of the day there was a truly international look to the leaderboard, with six nations represented in the first six places.

Hu Mu

Hu Mu of China

Tied for the lead are Iain Steel and Chinnarat Phadungsil, who both went very low with -7. Iain's name makes him look Scottish, but he can't be because he's at the top of a leaderboard. In fact he's from Malaysia, while Chinnarat is very obviously Thai.

They are followed by Aussie Tony Carolan on his own at -6, then five at -5: Lin Keng-Chi of Taipei, Bae Sang-Moon of Korea, and three of a very large Japanese contingent in the field – Masao Nakajima, Takao Nagami, and Hiroyuki Fujita.

The Pine Valley Resort and Country Club presents a different challenge to that of the CBD in Beijing and the Tomson Pudong in Shanghai, both of which have been visited recently by the Tour for the Volvo China Open and the BMW Asian Open.

Bae Sang-Moon of Korea

Bae Sang-Moon of Korea

Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course has clearly – and rightly – been put together with the players rather than the spectators in mind. The rough is longer and tougher, and often invades the playing area. Shrub pines and a type of broom line the fairways – no doubt to the consternation of the members, but the professionals rarely visit. Many of the greens are surrounded by trees, of which the willows are particularly attractive. While some of the back nine is a little featureless, the front nine has a number of splendid vistas, particularly the 8th and 9th, which circle one of the lakes on their return towards the clubhouse.

The undulating fairways mean that the players are often targeting a dip that can't be seen from the tee across threatening patches of rough – intimidating for an amateur, but not for these guys. They can land the ball on a sixpence (although just occasionally the sixpence appears to be a wet one).

Hiroyuki Fujita

Hiroyuki Fujita

The tournament has been sponsored by the club itself, and a concern to protect the course perhaps explains the rather heavy-handed cordoning. As a result of the undulations, on the 6th and 7th for example the greens are almost invisible from behind the cordoned area. There aren't many spectators, but those that are there might be a little better served by slightly more access.

Steel went off like a rocket, with five birdies in his first seven holes. He was -6 by the turn, but dropped a shot on the 1st (his 10th). He pulled out another two birdies in the next two holes, and then things calmed down and he parred out the rest of his round.

Most of the low scoring was done early – Phadungsil was one of the first groups out in the afternoon. He was even more fiery than Steel, with three birdies in his first four holes, and nine altogether in his round. He also finished with birdies on the last three holes.

Most disappointing aspect of the day for the local supporters was the absence of any Chinese presence at the top of the leaderboard. In fact, you have to drop down to 23rd place to find the first of the home talent, Wu Ashun, one of 16 players on -2. He is joined there by Su Dong, whose performance belied his amateur status.

Chinese amateur golf held its head high at the Volvo and the BMW, where Hu Mu made the cut on both occasions, and another amateur, Zhang Xinjun, is only one behind Su on -1. Hu Mu himself is on par.

The low-scoring trio of the day came in at -13. Likeable American Brian Saltus must have been a bit baffled to find himself last of his group on -3, but he was playing alongside Lin and Nakajima. The American, winner of last year's Cambodian Open, missed a number of short putts, and he hopes to shoot as well or better today.

There might have been considerable confusion if Korea's Ted Oh had been drawn along with his countryman Seung Noh and Japan's Tomei OhNoh, but no, it was not to be. Oh and Noh shot par, which if scoring is similar today looks like being the cut, but for OhNoh it was more a case of woe. He must have had a quiet word or two with himself after dropping five shots in the last five holes, and he'll need to go low to avoid a weekend no-show.

Shot of the day: Takao Nagami's hole out from the fairway for eagle on the 415-yard 18th is certainly a contender, but to be fair it wasn't much more than a long chip. The award and the sympathy vote has to go to Min-gyu Cho, who aced the 200-yard 3rd. Min-gyu, the Mercedes 350E is up for grabs on the sixth. That's right, the sixth. Not to worry, you'll have three more chances!

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