MATT FITZPATRICK lies just three shots off the first-round lead in the UBS Hong Kong Open in Fanling, his first tournament back on tour following his British Masters success.
The Sheffielder shot a three-under-par 67 as Italy’s Andrea Pavan and Taiwan’s Lu Wei-chih shared top spot on the leaderboard at six under.
Fitzpatrick sandwiched a birdie at the second with bogeys at one and three before gathering four birdies in six holes after the turn, albeit with a further bogey at the 12th.
Justin Rose lived up to his billing as pre-tournament favourite while Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter suggested his last-minute dash to the event will not prove a wasted journey.
World No 7 Rose, who is the top ranked player in the field, carded a flawless five-under-par 65 to lie one shot off the lead.
Poulter was just two shots further back on three under alongside Fitzpatrick as he looks to make the most of his dramatic late entry into the event, the 39-year-old only arriving in Hong Kong at 7pm local time on Wednesday.
Poulter dropped out of the world’s top 50 on Sunday and was therefore ineligible for his planned appearance in the upcoming WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, meaning he would be unable to play the 13 events required for European Tour membership.
Only members can qualify for Europe’s Ryder Cup team and that meant Poulter was forced into a frantic journey from Orlando to Hong Kong - via New York - but only after former US PGA champion Rich Beem generously agreed to give the Englishman his tournament invite.
Poulter followed birdies on the second and fifth with bogeys on the eighth and ninth to reach the turn in level par, but came home in 33 thanks to birdies on the 10th, 15th and 17th.
Pavan came into the week 191st in the Race to Dubai and needing to finish second or better to climb into the top 110 and keep hold of his playing privileges.
That would represent a career-best for the 26-year-old, who has never recorded a top-three finish, but four birdies in his last six holes gave him an opening 64 and a share of the lead.
Lu, who came close to retirement three years ago after undergoing brain surgery, won three times on the Asian Tour before a non-malignant tumour was discovered in 2012.
Lu’s countryman CT Pan and India’s Jeev Milka Singh were alongside Rose on five under, with Graeme McDowell, Oliver Fisher and Kevin Phelan among the group on four under.
Fisher is 105th on the Race to Dubai and looks to be safe for next season, while Phelan is 123rd and in need of a good finish this week to secure his card.