Apr 30th, 2017
Alexander Levy leads in China
At the Volvo China Open
Words: James Greenwood
Alexander Levy underlined his ambition to be the first repeat winner of the Volvo China Open with a blistering opening nine–under–par 63 at the Topwin Golf and Country Club in Huairou, Beijing.
Levy, who won his the first of his three European Tour titles at the same event in 2014, took advantage of the benign early morning conditions to post a flawless round, including a stretch of four consecutive birdies on his back nine.
It was enough to give the 26–year-old a one–shot lead over nearest challenger Pablo Larrazabal of Spain, who carded eight birdies in a blemish-free 64 (–8).
“I played great and hit 18 greens and had some good putts for birdie – bogey free is the best way to play golf,” said the delighted Frenchman. “I had two or three long putts that helped but I played well last week and I’m enjoying being back at this golf course.
“I like the courses in China – both last week’s and this one - but golf is different every day and I will try my best to keep it going. I feel like I hit some good drives, some good irons and I used the wedge very well to get close to the flag and make it a little bit easier to make a short putt.”
Like Levy, Larrazabal was also delighted with his morning’s work. “The wind can change at any time but the greens are good, there is not too much rough so if you par the two or three tough holes then you can go on to score a good round,” smiled the Spaniard.
Swedish former Ryder Cup star Peter Hanson produced an opening 67 (–5) to stay four shots off the lead in third place alongside England’s James Morrison, South Africans Dean Burmester and George Coetzee, and Raphael Jacquelin of France, who all opened their campaigns with rounds of five-under.
“It’s a good course and it seems to fits my game,” said Hanson, who finished fourth at last year’s Volvo China Open. “I’ve had reasonable success here so I like the course and the game is getting better.
“I had a game plan last year of trying to be aggressive and I think with the severity of the greens it’s good to be that way and it showed on the scorecard. We saw some low scores last year and I think we are going to see some again this week, especially with the weather being the way it is - I’m looking forward to the week and it’s always good to get off to a strong start.”
Defending champion Li Hao–tong carries the weighty expectations of local fans following his win here last year but the 21–year-old is holding up well after a solid start. The young Chinese star rolled in three birdies with no dropped shots to card a comfortable 69 (–3) and a share of eighth place, one shot behind four players on four–under par, including fellow countryman Yi Cao.
“When I started I felt a lot of pressure and I have had a little bit of a cold, so this is a good result for me,” said Li. “I’m looking forward to the weekend - I at least need to make the cut - but I’m feeling better than last week.
Of the European Tour big guns vying for China’s national Open title, Bernd Wiesberger of Austria followed his victory last week also with an opening round 69 (–3), while England’s Chris Wood had a mixed day before settling for a level par 72.
European Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn struggled to get to grips with his game carding four bogeys in a 74 (+2) with fellow Dane Thorbjorn Olesen three shots better off with a 71 (–1), but eight shots adrift of Levy’s scorching start.
Elsewhere, Ryan Dillon may be well down the field after an opening 77 (+5) but the American did have the honour of recording the first hole–in–one of the tournament holing his seven–iron tee shot at the 180–yard, par three 13th.
“It was going just left of the pin - everything kind of feeds that way - but we didn’t know if it was good,” said Dillon. “There was just one little clap and when we got up there it was in.”
Despite being the first of the 156–man field to record an ace, he missed out on the hole–in–one prize of a Volvo V90 Cross Country, which is only on offer to the first golfer to ace the par three 16th hole on the Ian Woosnam designed course.
The second round of the Volvo China Open will get underway at 6.40am on Friday (April 28).
Volvo China Open - leading scores after 18 holes
-9 Levy (FRA)
-8 Larrazabal (ESP)
-5 Hanson (SWE), Burmester (RSA), Coetzee (RSA), Morrison (ENG), Jacquelin (FRA)
-4 Cao (CHN), Van Zyl (RSA), Campillo (ESP), Luiten (NED)