Defending champion Chan Shih-chang has picked up where he left off in the US$1million Mercuries Taiwan Masters by taking a share of the first-round lead today.

He shot a three-under-par 69 at Taiwan Golf and Country Club – where players have said the course is excellent but punishing, due to exceptionally narrow fairways and deep rough – along with veteran Angelo Que, Jaco Ahlers, Chikkarangappa S. and Dodge Kemmer.

Like the vast majority of the field, Chan, who started on 10, battled to get to grips with the back nine, playing it in one over with a bogey on 11, before a strong second half with birdies on one, three, five and six. 

An impressive round considering he was nursing a cold, which he picked up from his son.

“The difficulty has definitely increased compared to last year,” said the Chinese-Taipei star, a five-time winner on the Asian Tour – who has also triumphed on six occasions on the Asian Development Tour.

“I didn’t play bad on my front nine, just wasn’t making any putts. I started sinking putts on the back. I will just play shot by shot this week, don’t think so much. I should have a chance on Sunday, if I can stay consistent for the next few rounds.”

He beat Indian Rashid Khan on the second extra-hole here last year, to win this event for the first time, after making birdie on 18 thrice – once in normal play and twice in extra time.

Que, 44, rolled back the years and was quick to comment on the condition of the course.

“The conditions are very good, I think the best I have ever played at Tamsui!” he said. 

“The greens are so nice. You don’t have to hit it so hard. Hopefully, I keep doing what I am doing. The key this week is just to keep it in play.”

The Filipino is a three-time winner on the Asian Tour but his last came in 2010 at the Selangor Masters.

“It was good today, played with Mardan [Mamat] and Liu [Yen-hung] – that was good, allowed me to play in my comfort zone,” he added.

“Started on 10 and started bad, made a double there, but was hitting it good. I just kept on doing what I was doing and everything clicked.”

He also dropped a shot on 14 and made the turn in three over but enjoyed a brilliant run of holes from the third, making three birdies on the trot, followed by an eagle – where he hit his second to a foot – and another birdie.

Ahlers, an 11-time winner on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, including their Tour Championship in April, has been a regular feature on the leaderboards in Asia this year and is once again pressing for a first win in the region. 

Said the South African, who is playing here for the first time: “It was good, played solid, and putted nicely. It’s an interesting golf course – you have to be patient. Made some nice short putts, birdied the par fives.”

India’s Chikkarangappa S, popularly known as “Chikka”, was delighted to finish on three under. He also started on 10 and turned in even par but made three birdies on the second half.

“It is very tough out there,” he said.

“I have been playing here since 2016 and I think is the toughest I have seen the rough, it’s really up. If you miss it around the green or off the tee, it is very punishable, especially with the fairways very narrow. Only a crazy short game can save you.” 

Chikka has competed on the Asian Tour since 2014 and is also looking for his first win, having come close before on many occasions. He has finished second twice, third once, and fourth twice – including at The DGC Open presented by Mastercard this year.

“Honestly, I didn’t have a good start. But I putted well and got back into it. I chipped in on 16 from 10 yards, so that helped,” said 29-year-old, who does have two Asian Development Tour titles to his name.

“Still working on my ball striking but luckily the short game has been good. I am just working on a couple of things and those things are falling into place. I feel I am getting there day by day.” 

American Kemmer had looked set for the outright lead but made a double on his final hole, the ninth.

Scotland’s David Drysdale, Sadom Kaewkanjana from Thailand, Australian Todd Sinnott and Micah Lauren Shin from the United States are next best placed with 70s.

Khan is once again in the hunt having returned a 71 and is tied for 10th, in a group that includes his decorated compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh.

Chinese-Taipei legend Hsieh Min-nan also played today, breaking his own record for being the oldest player to tee off on the Asian Tour. The 83-year-old shot a very respectable 85, two better than another of the country’s greats ‘TC” Chen.

Play was suspended at 7am for 50 minutes due to heavy rain, meaning one group were unable to finish.

Scores after round 1 of the Mercuries Taiwan Masters being played at the par 72, 6923 Yards Tamsui Course course (am – denotes amateur):
69 – Angelo Que (PHI), Jaco Ahlers (RSA), Chikkarangappa S. (IND), Dodge Kemmer (USA), Chan Shih-chang (TWN).
70 – Todd Sinnott (AUS), Micah Lauren Shin (USA), David Drysdale (SCO), Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA).
71 – Lu Sun-yi (TWN), Ben Campbell (NZL), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Lu Wei-chih (TWN), Rashid Khan (IND), Scott Hend (AUS), Chapchai Nirat (THA), Travis Smyth (AUS).
72 – Ben Leong (MAS), Jarin Todd (USA), Tirawat Kaewsiribandit (THA), Yonggu Shin (CAN), Dominic Foos (GER), Veer Ahlawat (IND), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND), Taehee Lee (KOR), Miguel Carballo (ARG), Chang Wei-lun (TWN).
73 – Mardan Mamat (SGP), Jbe Kruger (RSA), Settee Prakongvech (THA), Zach Murray (AUS), Itthipat Buranatanyarat (THA), Josh Younger (AUS), Douglas Klein (AUS), Liao Huan-jyun (TWN), Bai Zhengkai (CHN), Yongjun Bae (KOR), Chen Hsuan-yi (am, TWN), Pavit Tangkamolprasert (THA), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Suradit Yongcharoenchai (THA), Prom Meesawat (THA), Karandeep Kochhar (IND), Suteepat Prateeptienchai (THA).
74 – Kevin Yuan (AUS), Kao Teng (TWN), Sung Mao-chang (TWN), Wen Cheng-hsiang (TWN), Liu Yung-hua (TWN), Jack Thompson (AUS), Lin Yung-lung (TWN), Neil Schietekat (RSA), Kieran Vincent (ZIM), Berry Henson (USA).
75 – Lu Wen-teh (TWN), Gunn Charoenkul (THA), Lee Chieh-po (TWN), Hsieh Chi-hsien (TWN), Shiv Kapur (IND), Hsieh Tung-hung (TWN), Huang Chi (TWN), Ajeetesh Sandhu (IND), Lin Yi-yuan (TWN), Yeh Chia-yin (am, TWN), Chonlatit Chuenboonngam (THA), Danny Chia (MAS), Richard T. Lee (CAN), Kao Lung-jui (am, TWN), Yikeun Chang (KOR), Lin Wen-tang (TWN), Shen Wei-cheng (TWN), Rattanon Wannasrichan (THA), Kosuke Hamamoto (THA), Nicholas Fung (MAS).
76 – Liu Yen-hung (TWN), Bjorn Hellgren (SWE), Huang Kuan-hsun (TWN), Honey Baisoya (IND), Sean Yu (TWN), Mingyu Cho (KOR), Hsu Li-peng (TWN), Nitithorn Thippong (THA), Michael Maguire (USA).
77 – Yoseop Seo (KOR), Turk Pettit (USA), Cho Tsung-lin (TWN), Steve Lewton (ENG), Ian Snyman (RSA), Natipong Srithong (THA), Kyongjun Moon (KOR), Lin Keng-wei (TWN), Hsu Yu-cheng (TWN), Tsai Tsung-yu (TWN), Huang Hsiang-hao (TWN).
78 – Fang Yin-jen (TWN), Lloyd Jefferson Go (PHI), Wang Wei-hsiang (TWN), Viraj Madappa (IND), Huang Yi-tseng (TWN), Terry Pilkadaris (AUS), Seungtaek Lee (KOR).
79 – Marcus Fraser (AUS).
80 – Chen Tze-ming (TWN), Lin Chang-heng (TWN), Chen Po-hao (TWN), Jaewoong Eom (KOR), K P Lin (TWN), Tom Power-Horan (AUS).
81 – Simon Kuo (am, TWN), Shahriffuddin Ariffin (MAS), Chen Yi-tong (TWN), Pawin Ingkhapradit (THA).
82 – Hung Chao-hsin (TWN), Shapiyate Mako (TWN).
83 – Willy Chen (am, TWN), Lai Chia-i (TWN).
84 – Chen Kai-chun (am, TWN), Chen Wei-sheng (TWN).
85 – Hsieh Min-nan (TWN).
87 – Chen Tze-chung (TWN).

Lu Chien-soon, Taiwan – RT

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