Australian Lukas Michel has a share of the first-round lead as the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship began on Wednesday at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club in the Middle East.
Michel, the 2019 US Mid Amateur Champion from Melbourne, opened with a four-under par 67 to join six others at the top.
The leaders include two of the world’s leading amateurs — Japan’s Keita Nakajima and China’s Yuxin Lin.
Perth’s Hayden Hopewell also is in contention after opening with a three-under par 68 in windy conditions in the first round. He is just one shot back.
Two other Australians, Perth’s Connor McKinney and Victorian Andre Lautee, broke par after opening with one-under 70s and are well-placed.
“Yeah, it’s a good score,” said Michel, who made five birdies along with one bogey at the 12th hole. “I definitely didn’t have my best driving performance but the rest of my game was really solid. Chipping, putting, approach play was good.
“Got lucky a few times with driver but I think I was due that. At the Mid Am and US Am I hit a couple of drives that got some very bad breaks. I haven’t had luck go my way for a while, so nice to shoot a score like that with a couple not-so-good drives.”
The 27-year-old Michel earned a spot in the 2020 Masters tournament at Augusta National with his US Mid Amateur win, seems hellbent on going back to the professional majors again.
“Keita is obviously pretty clearly the world No. 1 amateur,” he said. “I mean, he just won on the Japanese Tour a few weeks ago, so to shoot the same score as him when perhaps I didn’t have my best and I’m sure he didn’t have his best as well, is nice.”
Among those joining Lin and Nakajima at the top of the leaderboard is Hong Kong’s Alexander Yang, who notched up two eagles, two bogeys and finished with two closing birdies. New Zealand’s Jimmy Zheng, South Korea’s Wooyoung Cho, WAGR No. 14 Sam Choi of Korea and Michel round out the group of seven tied at the top.
Australia’s Hopewell, Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, China’s Aaron Du and Chinese Taipei’s Chi-Chun Chen finished T-8 at three under par as 33 players broke par on a windy day. Hopewell, the 2020 WA Open champion, had a share of the lead until he made an untimely bogey at the 18th.
Nakajima and Lin, the two-time AAC champion from China, could not have had more different starts to their rounds. Lin opened with a bogey, while Nakajima started with a birdie then made a double bogey on the very next hole when his tee shot went out of bounds by inches.
Undeterred by the setback, the Japanese star fought back with six birdies in the next 11 holes to claim sole possession of the lead at one stage, before a late bogey on the 16th pegged him back.
The bogey on the first was Lin’s only error. He made four birdies before the turn and added another on the 17th hole.
Lin, winner of the AAC in 2017 and 2019, said: “I thought I played pretty solid today. It was not the best start, but I stayed pretty patient out there and hit some good shots on the front nine.
“I am just trying to stick to the game plan and just stay patient out there. Everyone is going to make mistakes, so just stay calm and ready for the next shot and really just give my everything on every shot.”
Nakajima, who is the same age as Lin (21), made a good start to his campaign as he bids to become the third Japanese player to win the AAC title after Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011) and Takumi Kanaya (2018).
“I was very happy with the way I managed the golf course today. That’s something I want to keep on doing. The putting was also good. I made some good ones and then I missed a few short ones,” said Nakajima.
“I really enjoyed playing with Yuxin. He made some good birdies on the front nine and I also followed him. I did not pay attention to his scores but if I am tied with the defending champion, it’s always a good thing. There’s a lot of golf to be played so we will see.”
Created in 2009, the AAC was established to further develop amateur golf in the Asia-Pacific region. The champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament and The Open, while the runner(s)-up gain a place in Final Qualifying for The Open.
The 2020 AAC was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 championship marks the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries, and joins the numerous professional and amateur events Dubai hosts annually, including the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Tour Championship.
Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard to some of the world’s top players today, including Matsuyama, a two-time AAC winner and 2021 Masters champion. For more information about the AAC, visit AACgolf.com
67 Lukas Michel (tied-first), 68 Hayden Hopewell, 70 Andre Lautee, Connor McKinney, 72 Hayden Barron, 73 Lachlan Barker.