Tournament article

Lee’s looking good after opening day of Shinhan Donghae Open

Lee’s looking good after opening day of Shinhan Donghae Open]

Canada's Richard T. Lee took the opening day of the Shinhan Donghae Open by storm with a blistering nine-under-par 62 as international players stamped their class with Thai duo Nitithorn Thippong and Tirawat Kaewsiribandit also impressing to dominate the top three standings.

The 31-year-old Lee made light work of the Koma Country Club by marking his bogey-free scorecard with nine birdies to smash the course record by one shot.

The splendid effort gave Lee a one-shot lead over 25-year-old Nitithorn, who signed for a flawless 63, in the KR₩1,400,000,000 event jointly sanctioned by JGTO, Korean Tour and Asian Tour.

Tirawat could have ended the day matching Nitithorn before a late blemish on the 18th pegged him back to settle for outright third on 64.

The 32-year-old had blazed the course with an eagle and six birdies prior to dropping that lone bogey.

JGTO trio Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines and Americans Seungsu Han and Todd Baek also got off to a flying start with superb matching 65s to be among six players tied for fourth including South Korea's ace Siwoo Kim, a three-time US PGA Tour champion.

South African Jbe Kruger, the 2019 winner, was well placed in a tie for 10th on 66 that included current JGTO money leader Kazuki Higa, and veterans Shingo Katayama, Hideto Tanihara and Brad Kennedy of Australia.

Lee was surprised even himself after erasing Rikuya Hoshino's previous course best mark of 63 during the 2019 Kansai Open.

That's because the Canadian has a dreadful track record in Japan, having made only two cuts in eight outings to date, with his finish being tied for 33rd at Diamond Cup in 2016.

But when it comes to Shinhan Donghae Open, Lee has always been the man to beat as he won in 2017 and finished runner-up in 2020.

"I like the layout here. You got to hit fairways, the rough is up and long right now but the greens are actually playing pretty fast. I like fast greens," said Lee.

"No-bogey round with nine birdies, I felt like I took advantage of the par-five well today,

"To be honest, I haven't had any good results in Japan before. I've always been playing well in Shinhan Donghae Open, so it's just kind of funny actually.

"I think I just like the atmosphere of the tournament, they ran it pretty well."

Nitithorn, meanwhile, made his presence felt right away on his very first JGTO event start and proved just why he's a two-time winner on Asian Tour this season.

"I'm really happy about the result today, no dropped shot, really awesome," said the Singapore International Series champion.

"I drove the ball really well, that's the first key to play well here. You got to hit the fairway first and foremost before making your next move.

"I know I've won in Singapore recently, but it's already past. Right now, I just want to focus on the present."

Pagunsan attributed his good round to a hot putter and familiarity with the course after trading seven birdies, including five out of the six-hole stretch starting from the 13th, against a lone bogey.

"I played well today and putting was good, that's made a huge difference," said Pagunsan, who shot seven-under overall to finish tied 29th at the 2019 Kansai Open.

"I played here before, it all looks the same to me. My putting must be good if I'm give myself a chance to win."

Kruger bounced back from an early bogey on the 11th and fired six birdies to mind his gap with the leaders.

"I hit a lot of greens and fairways, if you can hit the fairways, it's definitely a lot easier," said Kruger.

"I didn't hit it close enough on my outward-nine, but at least I made pars.

"It's always nice to start off well. Anything under 70 it's a good start."