HONG KONG: England's rising star Matthew Fitzpatrick enjoyed a fine start to the new European Tour on Thursday (Nov 23), firing a four-under par round as Sergio Garcia struggled in testing conditions at the Hong Kong Open.
Playing in a group with compatriot Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion Sam Brazel, Fitzpatrick hit six birdies to finish with a 66 on the par-70 course, putting him in second place one stroke off the first-round lead.
"If it plays like this and I shoot the same score for the next three days, I'll be very, very happy," said Fitzpatrick, 23, after the opening round. "It's not easy with how strong the wind is and how easy it switches direction.
"It's a tough golf course without any wind, so it makes it very tricky."
Olympic champion Justin Rose had predicted following the previous day's pro-am warm-up competition that four-under would be a good score given the course's rapid greens and swirling winds, and he duly finished two-under.
"It's tricky ... I think the course played a couple of shots harder than they typically are today," Rose said.
India's SSP Chawrasia was the overnight leader after shooting the day's only 65. The majority of the competitors failed to make par.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia struggled to find form, starting his round with a bogey and hitting a double-bogey on 10 after his ball rolled back into a creek.
It was a volatile round for the Spaniard throughout, also finding trees on the 18th - although he delighted the crowd by following a fluffed chip on hole eight with a second attempt which rolled straight on to the green and up into the hole.
Garcia finished one under par.
After a brief but highly successful amateur stint in the US, Fitzpatrick announced his arrival on the professional circuit by winning the British Masters in 2015 aged just 21, the youngest player in the field that weekend.
He topped that achievement by claiming the European Tour's showpiece DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last year and, after a series of recent strong showings, has risen to number 31 in the world rankings.
Meanwhile Fleetwood, his playing partner on Thursday, finished the opening round of his European Tour defence at two-under, with a pin-point birdie at the final hole to keep the pressure on the early pacesetters.
Just four days after he lifted the Race to Dubai title at the end of a gruelling tour season, Fleetwood showed no signs of burnout as he hit an iron shot from 106 yards to within inches of the hole.
"It was a tough day - it was Baltic this morning. Once you get off the fairway it's so difficult," said Fleetwood.
"I'm glad I birdied the last hole really, which made me feel a bit better. I played really nice, I felt comfy out there and hit a lot of nice putts."
Fitzpatrick said competing alongside the recent tour winner - and the accompanying spectator buzz - had not bothered him.
"We had the crowd following Tommy just seeing as how he won the Race to Dubai the other day," said Fitzpatrick.
"It's always good to play with Tommy, I played with him when I just started as a pro. No offence to him but I've played with him a few times before now, so you get used to it," he joked.