HONG KONG (AP) — John Daly put himself within four strokes of joint leaders Liang Wenchong of China and South African Richard Sterne, who both shot a 6-under 64 in the first round of the $2.5 million Hong Kong Open on Thursday.
Liang and Sterne were a stroke ahead of Taiwan’s Lin Wentang – who recovered from a double bogey on the opening hole – and 48-year-old Frankie Minoza of the Philippines.
Daly was 4-under after 15 holes, but bogeys on the last two holes cost him a share of fifth place in the jointly sanctioned European Tour and Asian Tour event.
“I’m not too disappointed, being a little rusty. I haven’t played in a month. Two under par on the first round here is pretty good. I’ll take it,” the 42-year-old American told reporters.
Daly, a former British Open and PGA Championship winner now ranked No. 788 in the world, said he feels he is striking the ball well but is struggling for rhythm because he hasn’t been able to qualify for consecutive tournaments.
He has not had a PGA Tour card since 2006, when his two-year exemption expired from his last victory at the Buick Invitational in 2004. He made only five cuts in 17 starts on the PGA Tour this year and earned just over $56,000.
“I need to play three or four weeks in a row to get anything out of my game. I haven’t been able to really do that in two years. The exemptions didn’t come in a row,” Daly said.
“My drought hasn’t been quite as bad as Australia and the water situation, but it’s been close. You just keep fighting and keep working on it.”
Daly has also had a tumultuous year off the course, going through a divorce and spending a night in jail last month after being found “extremely intoxicated and uncooperative,” police said, outside a Hooters restaurant in North Carolina.
Liang, the 2007 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, shot seven birdies with only a bogey on the final hole preventing him from taking the lead.
He said he played patiently and described his round at the 6,702-yard Hong Kong Golf Club in suburban Fanling as a “good start.”
“Even though the course is short, there are many places where you can run into problems. When you’re not playing well, when you’re impatient, it’s very easy to make mistakes because the fairways are quite narrow,” Liang said.
Sterne, who won the European Tour’s Joburg Open earlier this year, made an impressive debut in Hong Kong despite not even playing a practice round.
“I’ve done it a few times before so I’m not really too fazed about it,” Sterne said. “It went pretty well. Sometimes it helps – you don’t know where all the trouble is.”
The South African fired eight birdies, with bogeys on the eighth and ninth holes his only blemishes.
Miguel Angel Jimenez got off to a disappointing start to his title defense and his bid to become only the third player to win at Fanling at least three times. The Spaniard made three bogeys and finished 1-over, seven strokes behind the leaders.
“I ruined myself on the greens,” Jimenez said.
Among the leading players, South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell were level with Jimenez after shooting 71s, while in-form Englishman Oliver Wilson stamped himself as a genuine title threat with a first-round 66.
Six-time major winner and Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo shot a 72.