Big finish by Laird as Scots make strong start in China

HELPED by a magical finish from Martin Laird, Scotland made a good start to the Omega World Cup at Mission Hills, where a nine-under-par 63 earned them a share of second spot, two behind leaders Australia.

The first round of the £6.5 million event in China saw plenty of low scoring in the opening fourballs and Laird and Stephen Gallacher produced a bogey-free effort to have pacesetters Robert Green and Brendan Jones in their sights heading into a more testing foursome session in the second round.

“You can’t win a golf tournament on day one but you can lose it and we are well pleased that we’ve given ourselves an excellent chance to build on a very solid start over the next three days,” said Gallacher.

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“The important thing was that we gave ourselves chances at every hole with the result that it was a relatively stress-free round.”

The Scots bagged four birdies in the opening six holes to be out in 32 before picking up another two shots with birdies at the 12th and 14th.

Laird, who is making is debut in an event that has now become a biennial affair, then produced his big finish, chipping in for an eagle-2 at the driveable 16th and holing out from a greenside bunker for a birdie at the last.

“Any time you finish the way we did and end up on nine-under you are going to be happy,” said Laird, the world No 42.

“We both hit the ball well today. At the 16th, it was the only hole where one of us had to pick up something. I got a bit lucky but we will take that and maybe the luck evened out in the end as there were a couple of times earlier in the round when it went against us.”

With all but one of the 28 teams breaking par, the Hainan Island course was pretty much defenceless, especially with little trouble to be found off the tees due to massive fairways.

“That’s what it’s going to be like in fourballs because it frees everyone up,” added Laird.

“You have a partner sitting in the middle of the green and you are taking dead aim on your second shot.

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“There’s always going to be birdies and it’s fun to play like that. You don’t often get to play team events, so it’s fun when you have got that. There’s lots of room off the tee here but then it becomes interesting. It’s definitely a second-shot golf course due to all the tiers on the greens.

“It was a little tricky out there in the wind and, although there’s a long way to go, we are in a good position.”

Laird also believes the Scots should work together well in the foursomes, saying: “We hit the ball about an identical distance and that should help for foursomes. We are not going to be wondering what club we need to play and that’s got to be an advantage.”

Green and Jones also reached the turn in 32 before storming home in 29 with two eagles and three birdies.

“We combined very well today,” said Green. “It’s a matter of positioning yourself and giving the other guy an opportunity if you are slightly out of position and allowing them to be a little bit more aggressive. We did that well all day and it didn’t matter what hole we were faced with.”

Ireland, represented by Ulstermen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, are alongside the Scots on nine-under, with American pair Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland, as well as Dutch duo Robert-Jan Derksen and Joos Luiten, a further shot back.

Italy’s Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, the defending champions, are down in a tie for 19th after they opened with a five-under 67.