Brilliant Bhullar takes charge in Macau

In-form Gaganjeet Bhullar rode on an eagle's wing to shoot a sizzling eight-under-par 63 for a two-shot lead after the first round of the Venetian Macau Open on Thursday.

Golf News: Gaganjeet Bhullar

The talented Bhullar was man of the hour at the challenging Macau Golf and Country Club with his brilliant shot-making as Thailand's Prom Meesawat and Scott Hend of Australia led the chasing pack with matching 65s.

Three-time Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand produced a bogey-free 66 for a share of fourth place with Ireland's Niall Turner, Australian Kieran Pratt and Bangladeshi Siddikur, who sank a hole-in-one on the sixth hole in the tournament which is title sponsored for the first time by Venetian Macau-Resort-Hotel.

Welshman Ian Woosnam, a former Masters Tournament champion, launched his campaign with a solid 68, one better than playing partner and two-time Macau Open winner Zhang Lian-wei of China.

In his last five starts on the Asian Tour, Bhullar has won once and finished second and ninth. An opening bogey didn't matter for the 24-year-old Indian whose superb play yielded an eagle from 35 feet on the second hole and seven other birdies.

"When you know mentally that you're striking the ball good, it'll be a matter of putting and if you putt well, you will score. Today [Thursday] was one of those Super Sunday putting," said a delighted Bhullar, who is a three-time winner in Asia.

"I canned that putt (on two). It changed the whole game plan. I made a lot of close birdies but holed a lot of long putts. Holed two from 40 feet."

Bhullar holds Macau close to his heart as he finished second here three years ago. With his good form, the Indian reckons he can contend again come Sunday. "This course is one of my favourite courses in Asia. It will be lovely to have a victory under my belt on this course," he said.

"In the off season, I've worked really hard. I knew that the game is there. It was just a matter of patience. Putting was one thing. I am streaky with the putting, very inconsistent. But I think that has been sorted out. I changed my posture a bit and it's been helping me."

The burly Prom, nicknamed the ‘Big Dolphin' due to his physique and the fact that he hails from a coastal town, made five birdies on his outward nine before settling for a 65. He said his fitness regime has given him an edge during the hectic run of year-end events.

"I started on the tough nine (back nine) and birdied the 10th which was a good start. I made a long putt and it gave me confidence. The pins were tough," he said. "During the (mid-season) break, I got myself ready for the rest of the year. I went to the gym as I knew I had to play six or seven weeks in a row. This is my fourth week and I'm still very fit. I think it's the fittest I've been."

Big-hitting Hend stayed patient at the demanding Macau layout, which rewards precision play. He used his driver only on four occasions as he picked up eight birdies, including on all the par fives.

"You have to manage the golf course or the course will manage you," said Hend, who won the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic earlier this year.

He finished top-10 last week in the CJ Invitational Hosted by KJ Choi in Korea to qualify for the cash-rich CIMB Classic in Malaysia later this month and with the top-eight players on the Order of Merit qualifying for the lucrative HSBC Champions in China after this week, Hend, currently on the bubble, is determined to get into the Champions.

"If I don't play well this week, I won't get in it. That's the key. I've put in the hard work. Like someone famous said, the harder you work, the luckier you'll get. I'm also starting to recover from my operation in July. I'm getting stronger," said Hend, who underwent surgery for a thyroid problem.

The towering Turner was also impressive, shooting five birdies in his opening seven holes which impressed his girlfriend who was watching him play for the first time. "The start was amazing ... I made a lot of birdies which is fun. My ball striking has been very good. If I putt very well, I'll do alright," said Turner.

Title holder Chan Yih-shin began his defence with a disappointing 73.

Scores after round 1 of the Venetian Macau Open 2012 being played at the par 71, 6,606 Yards Macau GCC course (a- denotes amateur):
63 - Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND).
65 - Prom MEESAWAT (THA), Scott HEND (AUS).
66 - Niall TURNER (IRL), Kieran PRATT (AUS), Thongchai JAIDEE (THA), SIDDIKUR (BAN).
67 - Jonathan MOORE (USA), S. Siva CHANDHRAN (MAS), Berry HENSON (USA), Tim STEWART (AUS), Thitiphun CHUAYPRAKONG (THA), Jason KNUTZON (USA), LEE Sung (KOR).
68 - Sam CYR (USA), Adam BLYTH (AUS), Kwanchai TANNIN (THA), Adilson DA SILVA (BRA), Anirban LAHIRI (IND), Antonio LASCUNA (PHI), Jarmo SANDELIN (SWE), Angelo QUE (PHI), Ian WOOSNAM (WAL), Varan ISRABHAKDI (THA).

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