Malaysia’s Gavin Green has long been tipped for great things in Asian golf and he showcased his ability with a fine five-under-par 66 in the first round of the SMBC Singapore Open on Thursday.
Fellow young gun Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines also shone in the opening round, outscoring playing partner Sergio Garcia, the world number 15, by three strokes thanks to a bogey-free 68 over The Serapong Course at Sentosa Golf Club.
After learning his craft in amateur events and college golf in the United States, Green turned professional in 2015 to much fanfare and the backing of several blue riband sponsors.
He graduated to the Asian Tour from the feeder Asian Development Tour, winning twice and finishing second on the Order of Merit last year, and his potential was clear for the spectators to see on Thursday as he carved out one of the best scores of the day.
The 23 year old Green missed the cut at last year’s SMBC Singapore Open but is a quick learner and looked assured and in control during the first round.
“I was actually feeling very comfortable coming into this week. I had a good two-week break before coming here. I took it easy and didn’t rush into anything out there. I was really feeling good out there compared to last year,” said Green, who carded six birdies and a sole bogey at his penultimate hole, the eighth.
“I felt really comfortable out there. I played last year but I was new to all this stuff. The course being so good you need a couple of rounds to get used to his. This time a little bit smarter, figured out the greens a little bit. And I putted well, holed a couple of good putts. I was cruising actually.”
Standing six foot one inch tall, Green is a big hitter off the tee but preferred a two-iron to the driver on most of the tight par-fours on The Serapong Course. And he nailed them.
“A lot of the holes I used two irons which go decently far. Second shots, I hit nine iron, eight iron or seven iron. I hit two or three drivers on the par-fives. I kept everything in play,” he said.
His immediate aim is to make the cut and hopefully be paired with one of the big names at the weekend.
“I just have to keep giving myself chances on the greens. If putts drop you are going to shoot under par – that is the game plan,” he said.
“I played with Ernie (Els) and Sergio (Garcia) quite a while ago. Nice to see them back in Asia. They are big players and you can always learn from them. Hopefully I get paired with them towards the weekend.”
Although a year younger than Green, Tabuena embarked on his professional career a lot earlier and is further down the path to potential glory.
He is also a good seven inches shorter in height but his technique is such that he hits his driver big distances. He has added as much as 40 yards off the tee since turning professional in 2011 and was alongside Garcia on most of the par fives.
Tabuena had a good year on the Asian Tour in 2016 finishing fifth on the Order of Merit and receiving a lot of praise.
His talent and potential earned the 2015 Philippine Open chmpion an invitation to last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii and he was tied for 13th place at the halfway point before falling back at the weekend.
The long flight to Singapore did not seem to faze him as he carded birdies on the 17th, 18th and ninth after starting his round at the 10th hole on Thursday.
He placed joint fourth in last year’s SMBC Singapore Open and after a bright start will be looking for another high finish in the prestigious tournament.