Yonggu Shin took advantage of calm early morning conditions to shoot a six-under-par 66 to take the first round in the inaugural International Series Oman at Al Mouj Golf.
The Canadian, who first shot to prominence last year when he finished joint-second in the Shinhan Donghae Open, carded six birdies and was bogey free — in the second event of the season on the Asian Tour, and first International Series tournament.
Spanish star Sergio Garcia looked set to join him in first place but made bogey on his last hole to finish with a 67, along with Sadom Kaewkanjana from Thailand.
American Andy Ogletree returned a 68, despite battling illness.
Japan’s Takumi Kanaya, Korean Kyongjun Moon, and Americans Berry Henson and Trevor Simsby shot 69s, while Scott Vincent from Zimbabwe, last year’s International Series Order of Merit winner, was one of 12 players who returned 70.
Shin breezed through the opening nine holes with birdies on four, five, six and eight, before further gains on 10 and 17.
“I really can’t complain, especially with the conditions out here,” said Shin.
“I got lucky being out first as the conditions were pretty good on the front nine and I managed to come away four-under for those nine holes but then the wind picked up in the afternoon and made it tricky, so really happy to come away without any dropped shots.
“I walked off at 18 and that was the first time I realised I was leading so I definitely can’t be unhappy with that. I think as the wind continues to pick up that score will be difficult to get near so yeah very happy with the start, now I just want to relax into the rest of the week.”
Shin, whose family emigrated to Canada when he was three years old, also won on the Korean PGA Tour last year at the Woosung Construction Open.
He added: “It is my first time in Oman, and also my first time in the Middle East so I am really excited. It is pretty cool, I’ve spent most of my time in the US, Korea and Canada so I’m so excited to be here. The course is in really great shape, it is tough out there, but I am really enjoying it and luckily I am playing pretty well.”
Garcia began his round on the 10th and was mid-leaderboard before a stunning run of five birdies in six holes starting on the second.
Said the Spaniard: “Obviously delighted. Mainly because my swing didn’t feel great, especially on the front nine, but then I got it going a bit on the back nine. Yeah, very happy with the score, especially with the wind picking up and how firm the greens are so very happy.”
The 43 year old, who recently returned to playing following a three-month break after a knee operation, is attempting to win for the seventh time on the Asian Tour.
“I hit some really good iron shots out there,” added the 2017 Masters champion.
“Like I said I didn’t feel like I was striking the ball too well, but I was managing to make a few saves on the front nine and then on the back nine I got going a bit and made five birdies in six holes or something like that which was a great feeling.”
Sadom’s presence on the leaderboard is no surprise, especially after a strong performance in last week’s PIF Saudi International, where he finished fourth, five behind the winner, Abraham Ancer from Mexico.
The in-form golfer, who remarkably has enjoyed eight top-10 finishes in his last 14 Asian Tour starts, switched putters recently and said he can do no wrong on the short grass.
“Over the break I started using an old putter of mine, it’s eight years old, and I’m holing so many putts,” said the 24 year old, a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, including last year’s Singapore Open.
“I feel confident, playing on LIV last year with so many great players has helped my game so much.”