Baldwin thrives in calm conditions to lead Volvo China Open by one shot

Matthew Baldwin at the Volvo China Open
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Matthew Baldwin carded seven birdies on a blemish-free scorecard Thursday to separate himself from the pack at the Volvo China Open.
By news services

Series: European Tour

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 10:06 a.m.

Matthew Baldwin of England took advantage of calm early conditions to shoot a 7-under 65 Thursday and lead the Volvo China Open by one stroke after the first round.

Baldwin, who graduated from Europe's second-tier Challenge Tour last year, said he was also helped by the tee and flag placements.

''The conditions were a lot calmer when I played then when we played a practice round early in the week,'' he said. ''Then, I thought shooting four 72s around this course would be very good. But they did move some of the tees forward and some of the pins were very generous, which helped the score.''

Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, Gary Boyd of England, Scott Strange of Australia, Jean Baptiste Gonnet of France, Fredrik Andersson Hed of Sweden and Jbe Kruger of South Africa were at 66 in the European Tour event.

Of those, only Kruger played after lunchtime, when a strong wind started to blow across the flat and exposed Binhai Lake course near Beijing.

Dutchman Luiten had eight birdies in his round, but undid some of his good work with a double bogey on the fourth.

England's Graeme Storm was among a host of players two strokes off the pace, while Sweden's Alexander Noren went 5 under through the first 10 holes but dropped back into a tie for 15th after back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th.

Former European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie shot a 68 for his best round this year -- and it would have been lower had he not three-putted on his last hole of the day.

''I have been working very hard on my game because you have to say that I had lost my game completely,'' Montgomerie said. ''It feels better and it seems to be coming back.''

Among those joining him on 4 under were Paul Casey, winner of this tournament when it was at Shenzen in 2006, defending champion Nicolas Colsearts of Belgium and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark. Ian Poulter and Peter Hanson, two weeks removed from top-10 finishes at the Masters, were on 1 under par.

There was no fairytale start for Guan Tian-lang of China, who at 13 years, 173 days made history by becoming the youngest player at a European Tour event. Playing when the wind was at its highest, Guan started with a bogey and was 5 over after six holes. However, he finished the last 12 holes in level par to shoot a 77.

Baldwin, meanwhile, enjoyed one of his best days yet since joining the European Tour, with seven birdies on a blemish-free scorecard as he picked up shots on the first, fifth and seventh before three in a row on Nos. 9, 10 and 11. He then birdied the 17th to separate himself from the pack.

"It was very good today so I am happy with that," said Baldwin, whose best finish to date on the European Tour was a tie for 10th at the season-opening Africa Open. "I just tried to keep everything as simple as I could."

Boyd, who is also hunting a maiden European Tour win, helped his cause with an eagle on the 12th and five birdies, though he bogeyed the sixth to cost himself a share of the lead.

"I am usually a very slow starter, but there have been encouraging signs recently," he said. "I went back to see my old coach a few weeks ago to see what thoughts he had on the state of my game and I have done some good practice at home on the back of that. Then to come out to Asia and play well last week and make a good start this week is good."