Tuesday 20 March 2018

Phelan plays down pressure after making assured start

Kevin Phelan plays his second shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the Hong Kong Open
Kevin Phelan plays his second shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the Hong Kong Open

William S Callahan

Kevin Phelan insists he is not feeling the pressure as he attempts to secure his European Tour card for next season.

The Irishman came into the week 123rd in the Race to Dubai and needing a top six finish in the Hong Kong Open to maintain his playing privileges for 2016.

An opening round of four-under-par 66 represented a solid start, placing Phelan just two shots off the lead held by Lu Wei-chih and Andrea Pavan after six birdies and two bogeys.

The 24-year-old admitted he had almost written off his season after missing the cut at the Dunhill Links Championship, but Eddie Pepperell's withdrawal from the Portugal Masters with a back injury gave him the chance to play last week and he is just delighted to still be in the mix.

"I'm pretty relaxed about the whole thing," he said. "I'd pretty much given up on the season after not playing well at the Dunhill Links so to get in Portugal last week was a bonus and then to get in this week was an even bigger boost because I think I was 15th reserve to start with.

Taiwan's Lu, who almost quit golf three years ago after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, upstaged a high-quality field to grab a share of the lead.

The 36-year-old fired eight birdies on the way to a six-under-par 64 to finish the day level with Italian Pavan, who came into the week 191st in the Race to Dubai and needing a career-best finish of second or better to climb into the top 110 and keep his card.

To be heading a field featuring Major winners Justin Rose (65), Graeme McDowell (66) and Padraig Harrington (70) is a fantastic achievement for world No 786 Lu, who endured a slow recovery after having a non-malignant tumour removed in 2012.


"For the first six months after my surgery, I pretty much gave up all my confidence and trust because I felt so weak and I didn't think I could play golf any more," revealed Lu, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour.

"I could hardly walk through all 18 holes. But about a year later, I started talking to the Asian Tour and they gave me the opportunity to get back on the Tour and play some events. Finally, I started coming back mentally and physically."

Rose fired a bogey-free round at Fanling to keep on the coat-tails of the leading duo alongside Lu's compatriot CT Pan and Indian Jeev Milkha Singh.

Ian Poulter showed no ill-effects of a late long-haul dash to Hong Kong from Florida by firing a three-under 67.

Poulter dropped out of the top 50 in the world rankings last Sunday, making him ineligible for next week's HSBC Champions event in China and unable to complete the 13 events required to maintain his European Tour membership next season.

The Englishman was able to take a spot in the field in Hong Kong after former US PGA champion generously Rich Beem gave up his place and he required local professional Alan Gibson to caddie for him, with his regular bag man on holiday.

Poulter, who won here in 2010, followed birdies on the second and fifth with bogeys on the eighth and ninth to reach the turn in level par, but came home in 33 thanks to birdies on the 10th, 15th and 17th.

Hong Kong Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

Irish Independent

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