Top-ranked Lee Westwood finished Thursday’s first round of the Ballantine’s Championship with a double bogey, falling six shots behind leader Damien McGrane.
Starting on the back nine, the Englishman birdied the 18th and was 2 under before his late slip on No. 9 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard at the $2.8 million tournament at the Blackstone Golf Club at Icheon. He finished at even-par 72 in the event sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and Korean PGA.
2011 BALLANTINE'S CHAMPIONSHIP
With four of the world's top 20 players on hand, this edition of the Ballantine's Championship features its strongest field ever.
Westwood, who won the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Masters last week to regain the No. 1 world ranking, appeared distracted by spectators taking photographs. Twice in the last three holes he backed off shots due to clicking noises, dropping three shots in the process.
Despite the poor finish, Westwood was satisfied with his performance. “I’m still in contention,” he said. “On the first 15 holes I played very nicely and gave myself a lot of chances without really making any putts.”
Ian Poulter and Ernie Els also had inconsistent rounds. Poulter started with consecutive double bogeys before bouncing back to post a 2-over 74. South African Els, winner of three majors, shot a 73.
South Korea’s Y.E. Yang, the first Asian to win a major, also struggled and posted a 4-over 76.
McGrane, who has a good record in Asia with his only previous tour victory at the 2008 China Open, birdied two of his final four holes to post a 6-under 66.
"I made plenty of birdies and I putted nicely," McGrane said. "I holed everything inside 15 feet. I made two bogeys, which were out of nowhere really, but that's golf I suppose.
"The fairways are generous and, just like last week, you make birdies on Day 1 and keep going till the end of the tournament,” he added. "That's what I started off doing, so hopefully I'll do it at end of the tournament."
McGrane was a shot ahead of South Korea’s Park Sang-hyun, Richard Finch of England and Felipe Aguilar of Chile.
Finch enjoyed five birdies in a bogey-free round and was pleased with his progress.
"Today I feel like I got up out of the right side of the bed and a few things went my way,” he said. "When I hit putts too hard, and I'm thinking, please hit the hole, it hit the hole and disappeared. That's a two-shot swing basically.
"You do need that little bit of luck and for things to go your way,” he added. “Hopefully, I still have a bit left in the tank but certainly took advantage today."
Aguilar had four birdies in an outward 32 and one more on the way home.
"You never know until the fat lady sings," he said. "It's just the beginning of the round -- you can lose the tournament today, you can't win it. We are just getting ourselves in position to be in contention. I came off to a pretty hot start.
"I made a couple of long putts that really helped, and I could really feel the tension, especially coming into the last couple of holes, but really happy with the round."
Scotland's Richie Ramsay is in fifth place alongside Chinnarat Phadungsil of Thailand while Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez is in a share of 11th.