It was a hot day here to kick off PGA TOUR Series-China’s first event outside Greater China, but that didn’t stop Australia’s Aaron Wilkin and American Jared Howard from shooting 5-under 65s to share the opening-round lead at the third and final Global Qualifying Tournament. The duo leads a packed leaderboard at the 72-hole, no-cut qualifier at Laguna Golf Phuket heading into Wednesday.
Wilkin, who has been playing primarily on the PGA TOUR of Australasia since turning pro in 2015, was solid from the start, picking up six birdies through 15 holes before a bogey on his final hole spoiled his run at a bogey-free round.
Despite the bogey, it was an impressive round—especially seeing that it was the first round Wilkin had played since injuring his wrist three weeks ago. The 26-year-old is hoping he can keep the momentum going but is expecting windier conditions in the afternoon for the second round.
“I’m pretty happy. I made a bogey on the last hole, which messed up my bogey-free round. I came here with no practice, and I haven’t played in three weeks so I don’t mind taking one bogey,” said Wilkin, whose second round begins at 11:55 a.m. “[Wednesday] I would love another 5-under. I think tomorrow might be a little tougher because I have a later start. It’s always a little bit easier getting up early and getting out there, and I think the breeze will be up tomorrow afternoon so it might be trickier.”
Howard, who teed off on hole 11, had a completely different scorecard for his 65. After carding eight consecutive pars, Howard drained a sensational shot from the hazard on hole 1 to make eagle. He then made three consecutive birdies, on holes 3, 4, and 5. He bogeyed No. 7 before closing with birdie-par to complete a memorable round.
“[The eagle] was one of the best shots I’ve hit in a while, so that jump-started the whole round for me,” said Howard. “The ball was in a weird spot on the grass, and I don’t know how it stayed up. So, I get down there, and I see I have 118 yards to the pin. The ball was below my feet and as the ball came off the face; I thought this could be good. Then all of a sudden we just hear boom; it hit the flagstick, so I knew it flew right in. Just dunked it.”
American Eric Beringer and Japan’s Raiki Okamoto each shot 66 to share third, one shot ahead of England’s Joe Heraty, Canada’s Stuart Macdonald, Japan’s Narutoshi Yamaoka, South Korean amateur Dongmin Kim, and American duo Archer Price and Blake Snyder.
Chasing the top-10 are six players in a tie for 11th at 2-under.
Only the medalist this week will earn full status for the 14-event Tour season, while finishers 2-12 will earn status through the first six events. Finishers 13-35 (and ties) will be conditionally exempt through the first six events.