Fred Funk, Michael Allen and Jay Don Blake shared the lead Friday after the rain-delayed opening round of the Posco E&C Songdo Championship, the Champions Tour’s first tournament in Asia.
All three Americans shot 3-under 69s after the start of the tournament was delayed by 1 hour, 39 minutes due to rain and wet conditions. The course had received more than two inches of rain from early in the evening Thursday.
“Conditions were remarkably good with all the rain,” said Funk, who won the U.S. Senior Open in 2009.
Organizers brought in a two-tee start -- in which some players start on the front nine and others on the back nine -- to make up for lost time Friday.
“(The) course was soft and you could really go at the pins today,” said Allen, who chipped in from 25 feet for a birdie on the par-4 10th hole.
John Cook and Sandy Lyle were one shot behind with 2-under 70s. D.A. Weibring stood 1-under at 70, while a quartet of players -- Nam-Sin Park, Naomichi Ozaki, Olin Browne and Denis Watson -- shot even par 72s.
Champions Tour money leader Bernhard Langer shot a 1-over 73. The two-time Masters champion from Germany was four shots behind in a tie with 11 others. Tom Watson, the runner-up in the British Open last year, shot a 3-over 75.
The 54-hole Posco E&C Songdo Championship is being played on the 7,087-yard course at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in the port city of Incheon. Nicklaus designed the course.
The event has a record Champions Tour purse of $3 million. The winner will take home $450,000.
Golf is hugely popular in Asia and players from the region have made their mark in the sport in recent years, most notably female players from South Korea and Japan and male golfers from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In a highlight for Asian golf, Y.E. Yang of South Korea outdueled Tiger Woods to win the 2009 PGA Championship.
“This is a wonderful golf market,” said Tom Watson. “I think it fits with the work ethic and the culture of the eastern countries.”
Watson, who has won the British Open, Masters and U.S. Open, also said he expects China to become a market for international pro golf within his lifetime, following on from Japan and South Korea.
Nicklaus, who is on hand this week but isn’t playing, said he is impressed with the quality of the Asian game.
“We have many players from this part of the world that are actually starting to play very, very well on the world circuit,” Nicklaus said. “Were going to see the growth of the game and I think the Olympics have a lot to do with that. We’ll have a tremendous growth of the game (throughout Asia).”
Golf is set to become an Olympic sport at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janiero.
As for the Champions Tour event itself, Nicklaus said that the greens will be a challenge.
“The greens here have a little bit of movement in them, a little bit of spice,” he said. “And that will be the difficulty. But I still expect to see the scores to be very good here.”