Australia took the lead in the first round of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup on Thursday after shooting an 11-under 61, finishing two strokes ahead of tournament favorites Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of the Ireland team.
Richard Green and Brendon Jones totaled seven birdies and an eagle on the par-72 Blackstone Course at Mission Hills Golf Resort on the South China island of Hainan.
OMEGA MISSION HILLS WORLD CUP
China is hosting the World Cup for the fifth consecutive time this week. The United States has hosted the event a total of 11 times.
The pair finished in a share of third place in 2008 for Australia, which won the last of its four World Cup titles in 1989.
“We just combined perfectly. We never doubled up on birdies, and that’s the key in this game,” said Jones, who was still in high school when Australia last won. “You want to make a lot of birdies, but you don’t want to make them on the same hole. That’s what we did.”
Ireland made up ground on the Australians on the back nine with McIlroy, ranked No. 2 and the U.S. Open champion, holing five birdies and an eagle. McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, had two birdies.
McIlroy and McDowell represent their native North Ireland as individual players but Ireland in team events. They were runners-up in the last edition in 2009 to Italy’s Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, who currently have a share of 19th place.
The format is two rounds each of foursomes and fourballs. Friday’s second round is foursomes with players hitting alternate shots.
“The strategy changes tomorrow and is a very difficult day that it will separate the field a little bit,” McDowell said. “Foursomes is probably the most difficult format of golf. You’ve got to play a little less aggressively. This is a difficult golf course. You’re trying to keep your partner in position.
“Rory and I have played it in the Ryder Cups and the Seve Trophys, and it is probably the most pressure-packed format.”
Martin Laird and Stephen Gallacher of Scotland are tied for second with Ireland.
The Netherlands’ Joost Luiten and Robert-Jan Derksen, and Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland of the United States are next on 64.
“We don’t play that many team events in the States,” Kuchar said. “The tournaments are mostly individual stroke play. I think the biggest difference here is having a partner, and it allows you to be a little more aggressive. I think my role is the steady role and I’ll let Gary be aggressive.”
Germany, Spain, Denmark and Colombia follow on 65, a stroke ahead of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose of England.
Taking full advantage of the fourball format, the Australians went to the turn in 32 before storming home in 29 with two eagles and three birdies.
“Brendan obviously started very well and built the momentum,” said Green. “It helped me progress with my game throughout the round and towards the back nine I was able to contribute a little bit and get the eagle on the par-four 16th. That really helped us at that stage.
“In this game it's just 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,” he added. “We did that well all day and it didn't matter what hole we were faced with.”
McDowell and McIlroy were pleased with what they called a solid opening round.
“We sort of set a target around eight to 10 under par that we thought was going to be a good score out there and we managed to shoot something around that,” said McIlroy. “It puts us in a great position going into the next three days.
“The fourballs this week are where you're going to make most of your birdies and the foursomes is a more demanding format where both players need to be on their games to shoot a low score,” he explained. “It was a good start but we know we still have got a tough job ahead of us.”
Scotland's Laird and Gallacher also produced a superb bogey-free effort with an eagle-2 at the 16th -- when Laird chipped in -- accompanying seven birdies.
“It was a great way to finish,” Gallacher said. “We were just saying coming down 14, 15, we had done well and nothing had really went for us but if we could have a strong finish. With Martin's chip-in at 16 and the bunker shot on the last, we've certainly done that.”