Australia’s Rick Kulacz showed that he can still play his best golf when he carded a 65 in the morning session to take a share of second place alongside 14-time Asian Tour winner Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand at the Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club.
Korea’s Lee Dong-hwan signed for a 66 to take fourth place while seven-time Asian Tour winner Charlie Wi of Korea posted a 67 to take a share of fifth place with six other players that include compatriot Lee Sung, Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat and Australia’s Adam Blyth at the US$750,000 event which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Korean Golf Tour.
The star of the day belonged to Yip who was a relative unknown until his opening round heroics made many take notice of his talent.
“It’s all about giving yourself as many chances as you can and luckily for me, I made a couple of putts and played really solid today,” said Yip.
Playing on a sponsor’s invite, the 28-year-old was at the top of his game, marking his card with a total of seven birdies.
Although Yip piles his trade on the Web.Com Tour in the United States, he envisions a great future for golf in Asia, especially with the staging of events like this week’s CJ Invitational.
“I had a good amateur record, turned professional about five years ago and played on the Canadian Tour for a while. I’ve been playing on the Web.Com Tour this year. I love events like this. It’s just like Tiger in the States. This event grows the game and it’s great for Asian golf,” said Yip.
Thaworn showed why he is one of the best players on the Asian Tour when he returned with a flawless 65 despite being distracted by the huge crowd following the marquee group of host K.J Choi and American Ben Curtis who were playing ahead of him.
The Thai, who holds the record of having the most number of wins on the Asian Tour, felt that his score could have been better if he had held his nerves with the passionate crowd ahead.
“The putts were all dropping and I couldn’t have played my short game any better. I was just affected by the crowd ahead as they were running everywhere eager to watch K.J in action,” said Thaworn.
Meanwhile Kulacz was relieved that he has started his campaign well as he was struggling a lot with his irons.
“I’ll definitely take that score because my shots to the green weren’t too good and I got six of my birdies from pretty close range. When I hit a good shot, it was good and but when it was bad, it was really bad,” said Kulacz, who marked his card with seven birdies against a lone bogey on the par-three fifth.
Since winning his second Asian Tour title in 2009, the Australian has been enduring an indifferent form.
Kulacz’s best result this season was a tied-23rd finish in Thailand and while it has been three years since he last won, Kulacz believes the key to playing well again is simply to be free-spirited and enjoy the game.
“I think I’ve got to try to just play the game instead of getting too caught up with technique. You just have to go out there, hit the ball and try to score as low as you can. Fortunately I did that today and obviously I’ve got to keep working at it as it’s always work in progress all the time,” said the 27-year-old.
There was nothing to separate both Choi and Curtis after they returned with matching 69s.
Curtis, winner of the 2003 British Open, mixed his card with three birdies against one bogey and is pleased that his first trip to Korea is turning out to be a very enjoyable one.
“K.J. is an icon over here in Korea and to be playing alongside with him is a great honour. The fans are obviously going to root for him but it’s alright with me as he’s the host and that the way it should be,” said Curtis.
“It’s always fun to play with K.J. and whether they are good or bad days, we always have fun and a good time. It’s fun to play with someone of his stature,” added the American, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour.
Choi returned the compliment and is encouraged by the healthy attendance at the Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club this week.
“Curtis’s a good player as well. I’m thankful for all the support that my tournament has been receiving so far. I’m pleased as this will go a long way towards raising the profile of the tournament,” said the Asian Tour honorary member.
CJ Group, Korea’s food-to-entertainment conglomerate, has a three-year agreement to title sponsor the tournament which will be beamed live on the Asian Tour’s global television platform which reaches over 200 countries and 650 million homes. It will also be broadcast on KBS and J-Golf channel.