Thursday, April 23, 2009

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea (AP) — Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano had an eagle and three birdies on the back nine Thursday to surge into a share of the lead with New Zealander Mark Brown after the first round of the $2.9 million Ballantine's Championship.

Fernandez-Castano went out in 34, including three birdies and a bogey, and returned in 31 - starting with an eagle 3 on the 545-yard par-5 10th - for a 7-under 65.

The 28-year-old Spaniard is coming off back-to-back second-place finishes this month, at the Estoril Open in Portugal and at the Volvo China Open last weekend in Beijing.

"I'm a little bit surprised I have to say. Last couple of weeks have been great," Fernandez-Castano said. "To come out and shoot 65, first round, you can't ask for much better. It's a fantastic way to start the tournament."

Brown started with an eagle at the 10th - one of 11 eagles on that hole - and had six birdies and a bogey in a morning start at the par 72, 7,361-yard Pinx Golf Club.

He has won both his last two Asian Tour tournaments, at the Sail Open and the Johnnie Walker Classic in India in 2008, but hasn't had a victory since. He was third at the China Open last week.

"I didn't play well for a good few months, and just lost it a little bit," the 34-year-old New Zealander said. "But it doesn't take much to get it back.

"You just hit a few good shots and I'm the type of person that the only way I can gain confidence is by actually seeing the proof, not by trying to kid myself. When you start to see the ball fly a little bit straighter, then you slowly gain confidence."

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, Robert-Jan Derksen of Denmark and South Korea's Kang Kyung-nam shared third place at 6 under, one stroke ahead of another group of three.

Three-time major winner Ernie Els was in a share of ninth place at 4 under, along with world No. 9 Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

Former Masters champion Fred Couples was among the 17 players at 3 under.

Els was disappointed he didn't make a charge after an eagle at the 10th, narrowly missing a birdie putt at the 11th.

"It was okay. I've been struggling with form a little bit in the last couple of weeks," the South African said. But, "I didn't have a bogey on my card - that's a good sign. I'd like to push on from here.

"I'm not too bad. I'm three behind. Three tough weather days to come. Who knows, maybe level par will win it."

Defending champion Graeme McDowell was 11 shots off the pace after a disappointing 76.

"Just didn't play well - drove all over the place," the Northern Irishman said. "The greens were a little elusive. Didn't putt too well. ... 4 under should have been there for the taking. I just wasn't on top of my game.

"I need three good rounds here. I'll come out all guns blazing tomorrow."

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