TIANJIN, China -- While 12-year-old Ye Wo-cheng was making history Thursday at the Volvo China Open, Robert-Jan Derksen was making birdies.
Ye became the youngest player to compete on the European Tour, shooting a 7-over 79 in the first round with a 40-yard chip-in for bogey on his 15th hole.
Derksen shot a 66 to take a two-stroke lead. The 39-year-old Dutchman had six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from the sixth. He added two more on the final three holes at the Binhai Golf Club course.
At 12 years, 242 days, Ye broke the previous record held by Guan Tianlang, who was 13 years, 177 days when he played at last year's China Open. Guan made history last month when he became the youngest to compete in the Masters at 14.
Defending champion Branden Grace (74) struggled early but birdied three of his final five holes.
Having not won since 2005 and outside the top 100 on the Race to Dubai both this year and last, Derksen could have been forgiven for thinking it was not going to be his day again when he was 1 over par after five holes. However, he fought back with three birdies to turn in 34, gained another shot at the 10th, then pitched to eight feet at the 12th to reach the 4-under clubhouse mark set by the morning starters.
A tee shot to six feet at the 16th gave him the outright lead, and a birdie at the last extended his advantage.
“It was a funny day, because I started well with a birdie from about five feet, but then three-putted the third and fourth and ended up in three divots on the fairways later in the round,” said the two-time European Tour winner. “I made a lot of birdies, and I’ve ended the day in a really good position. The wind was difficult to judge, even on the greens. But I started making a few putts and my confidence lifted.
“I played well here last year, and decided to skip Korea last week to better prepare for this tournament, because the travelling can take it out of you. So it looks like a good decision,” he added. “It’s only the first day, I know, but I haven’t led a tournament for quite a while, so if I can keep rolling in the putts, hopefully we could be in for a good week.”
Hot on Derksen’s heels are three of the European Tour’s last five winners, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Raphael Jacquelin and last week’s Ballantine’s Champion Brett Rumford carding matching rounds of 68.
Rumford’s bogey-free round featured birdies from 30 and 40 feet on the 10th and 11th, as well as a 20 foot effort on the 15th.
“I didn't get much sleep on Sunday night and then I took Monday and Tuesday to recover,” said the Australian, who eagled the first playoff hole at Blackstone for a first victory in six years. “Wednesday I just played the pro-am, so that was my practice for the week to give myself a chance to recover and get the body right. Mentally I feel nice and fresh, and obviously it was a bit of a mental grind out there with the wind.
“You had to be really patient, so it was a good test for the first round back after my victory last week. It's just a matter of 'keep doing what you're doing'.”
Thailand’s Aphibarnrat, who won his maiden European Tour title at the Maybank Malaysian Open in March, carded five birdies and a solitary bogey in his round including a 10-foot effort at the sixth – his 15th.
“I still have a lot of confidence from how I played last week (at the Ballantine’s Championship), and obviously from Malaysia,” he said. “I have played well for three or four weeks in a row now, and will try to finish high up the leaderboard again this week. In this type of wind you don't know how you will do, but I’ll just try to do my best.”
Jacquelin won last month’s Spanish Open after a marathon nine-hole play-off and had four birdies in his blemish-free round. The 38-year-old had a strong finish to thank for his score as he holed a 20-footer to save par at the seventh before holing from 35 feet at the eighth and 12 feet at the ninth – his last.
“It’s a great start, any time you have no bogeys and four birdies, it’s always a good day,” said the Frenchman. “The wind’s picking up now, so we were lucky to play seven or eight holes without much wind. The course gives you a few birdie chances, but there were some holes – like the fourth, ninth and 17th – which were playing really long into the wind.
“I’m playing really well at the moment. Obviously my win in Spain was amazing, and I guess it was always going to be heard to keep the same high level in Korea last week.”