Golf: Catlin leads as Asian Tour tees off after Covid break

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John Catlin hit a first round 65, seven under par (AFP/Paul LAKATOS)

America's John Catlin took a one-shot clubhouse lead in the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship Thursday as golf's Asian Tour returned after a 20-month break imposed by the pandemic.

Eagles at the par five ninth and 15th holes helped the four-time tour winner to a first round 65, seven under par, a shot ahead of Taiwan's Chan Shih-chang and Ian Snyman.

The $1 million tournament on the idyllic holiday island of Phuket saw the first shots played on the Tour since the Malaysian Open in March 2020.

There was disappointment for home star Phachara Khongwatmai as a bogey on the last left him five under par, a shot off a share of second place.

Current order of merit leader Wade Ormsby of Australia was one of 14 players to finish on 69, four shots off Catlin, who came to Phuket off the back of a top 10 finish in the $9 million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Sunday.

The Blue Canyon event comes just weeks after Australian legend Greg Norman shook up the world of golf by announcing his new series of 10 events from 2022, backed by $200 million of Saudi money.

World number 123 Catlin has been in fine form in recent years, claiming three European Tour wins in addition to his Asian titles.

"I made a few long ones, I just happened to play good. And I took advantage of the par fives," the 31-year-old said.

He sealed his eagle at the ninth with a 30-foot (10-metre) putt, and hit a three wood to nine feet to set up his second at the 15th.

Catlin had previously based himself in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin and said the familiarity paid off for him.

"Last time I was here was in May 2020. Feels great, like I have been saying for the past four years, it feels like a second home," he added.

Chan also came to Phuket on a hot streak, bagging four wins on his country's domestic circuit.

“It’s been so long since we last came out to play. I am really excited this week. I’ve been playing well back home and the competitions have kept my game in shape,” said Chan, who won twice on the Asian Tour in 2016.

Leading scores after the first round of the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship (par 72):

65 - John Catlin (USA)

66 - Chan Shih-chang (TPE), Ian Snyman (RSA)

67 - Phachara Khongwatmai (THA)

68 - Shiv Kapur (IND), Paul Peterson (USA), Sadom Kaewkanjana (THA), S Chikkarangappa (IND), Sihwan Kim (USA)

69 - Scott Hend (AUS), Mathiam Keyser (RSA), Honey Baisoya (IND), Karandeep Kochhar (IND), Ben Leong (MAS), Dodge Kemmer (USA), Justin Quiban (PHI), Danthai Boonma (THA), Viraj Madappa (IND), Wade Ormsby (AUS), Joohyung Kim (KOR), Bjorn Hellgren (SWE), Raththee Sirithanakunsak (THA)

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