Groom sets pace from Ryder Cup trio

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Australia's Adam Groom fired a 64 to take a one-shot lead over the European Ryder Cup trio, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez and David Howell, in yesterday's first round of the Hong Kong Open.

Harrington, of Ireland, the Spaniard Jimenez, Howell, of Britain, and the South African Charl Schwartzel shot five-under-par 65s. Harrington, the world No 6, produced an error-free round to begin his title defence in style at the jointly sanctioned European and Asian Tour event.

"I'm very pleased with this start, but there is a lot of work remaining to be done. It's great to begin this way and nice to get the adrenalin going," Harrington said. Groom bounced back well after failing to win a European Tour qualifying spot last month in Spain. "It feels good to be on top of the Ryder Cup stars. I was steady all day and it was quite a start for me," he said.

Howell, making his first appearance in Hong Kong, stormed home after shooting four of his five birdies on the back nine. "It is very rare for me to have a bogey-free round and I'm absolutely delighted. The key was I made no mistakes and kept it in play all along," Howell said.

Jimenez had one bogey early in his round, but made up for it with an eagle at the par-five 12th hole, his third, and never looked back. "I hit it very well on to the greens like I did last week. I like playing in this part of the world. The people are nice, the weather is nice and the food is nice," said Jimenez, twice a winner in Asia this year and joint runner-up in last week's Korea Open.

Two shots off the pace on four-under-par 66 were the Frenchman Gregory Havret, the American Brian Saltus, Harmeet Kahlon, of India, Scott Barr, of Australia, Alessandro Tadini, of Italy, and Derek Fung of Hong Kong. Jose Maria Olazabal, the winner of two majors, was three shots adrift of the leader, while Stephen Dodd, of Wales, was one stroke further behind on 68. The six-times major champion Nick Faldo shot a one-under-par 69, as did Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.

* The American Bob Estes shot a record-equalling nine-under-par 63 to lead the first round of the Australian PGA Championship yesterday. Estes, 38, sank nine birdies in a flawless opening round at Coolum, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast, to finish the opening day a single shot clear of the field.

* The Welsh Ryder Cup player Phillip Price lies joint second after the first round of the US Tour qualifying school in California. After starting with a bogey, Price picked up shots at the fourth and seventh, and then had four more in a row from the 11th for a five-under-par 67. It put him only one behind the American Scott Gump.

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