European Tour

Aussies lead at Hong Kong Open despite bushfire worries

2020-01-10 09:58
Wade Ormsby (AFP)

Hong Kong - Former champion Wade Ormsby and Aussie newcomer Travis Smyth took the top spots at the Hong Kong Open in early play on Friday, battling to stay focused as devastating bushfires rage in their homeland.

The fires have already scorched around eight million hectares (20 million acres) - an area the size of Ireland - and last month burnt a massive stretch of land near Ormsby's home in the Adelaide hills.

"We're checking our phones, checking for updates," he said, describing the view from his plane window on the way to Hong Kong as "just like a red dust storm".

Smyth, playing in the $1 million tournament for the first time, and who carded 68 to end three points off Ormsby, also has reason for distraction.

His sister's boyfriend is a member of the special forces and was called up last week to help battle the blazes.

"I haven't had a chance to speak to him yet, I'm sure he's busy down there," said Smyth, who tied for 15 at the Australian PGA Championship in December.

Along with 2014 champion Scott Hend, the youngster is one of two Australian golfers at the tournament who will donate money to bushfire relief for every birdie they shoot, with the competition hosts announcing plans to match Hend's contribution.

"We're wishing him the very best and hope he makes a great many birdies and eagles over the week to help raise funds for this very worthy cause," said Hong Kong Golf Club captain William Doo.

The fires ravaging Australia have mobilised a host of athletes from the sports-mad country and around the world to pitch in and raise money for relief efforts.

Cricket star Shane Warne's auctioned his "baggy green" cap to raise money for victims, while tennis bad-boy Nick Kyrgios has pledged Aus$200 for each ace he serves in the Australian summer of tennis.

Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton pledged $500 000 on Thursday, and tennis legend Serena Williams is auctioning off a dress she wore on the court at this week's WTA Auckland Classic.

Ormsby finished his second day in Hong Kong with a four-under 66 to stay at the top of the leaderboard.

He said he would use all the "little tools to try and get my head into gear" as the pressure builds going into the weekend.

"I know I'm playing well," Ormsby told reporters at the historic Fanling course, where he won his maiden European Tour event in 2017.

"Hopefully I'll try and stretch that out."

US world number 16 Tony Finau started strongly after a lacklustre first day, but shot three bogies over the round to card a one-under 69, seven points adrift of the top.

That left "a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth," said the American of Tongan-Samoan heritage, who was the first Polynesian to play in a Ryder Cup.

"I'm going to have to play better on the weekend to chase the guys who are playing well."

The Philippine's Angelo Que - who lost to Australia's Hend in a playoff in 2014 - carded a two-under 68 to sit joint third on the board.

The $1 million tournament is going ahead six weeks after being postponed by Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, with organisers hoping a successful staging will show that normality is returning to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.


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