Min Woo Lee heads the list of Aussie superstars yet it is unheralded Spaniard Joel Moscatel who sits atop the leaderboard after day one of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland.
When Lee signed for a 7-under 64 it showed that the 25-year-old had brought his growing stature within the game back to home soil but Moscatel matched Jed Morgan’s 2021 course record of 8-under 63 to lead by one.
Sydney’s John Lyras (66) is outright third and one clear of a group of six players at 5-under including Adam Scott, Lucas Herbert, Connor McKinney, Sam Brazel, Scotland’s Connor Syme and Ryo Hisatsune of Japan.
Defending champion Cameron Smith endured a frustrating start with a round of 2-over 73 while DP World Tour stars Adrian Meronk (68) and Robert MacIntyre (69) returned under-par rounds after their early starts on Thursday morning.
A 25-year-old, who cites Spanish legends Seve Ballesteros and Jon Rahm as his idols, shrugged off the disappointment of missing a DP World Tour card by one shot at Qualifying School last week to lead a star-studded field.
While he now has guaranteed status on the secondary Challenge Tour in Europe next year, Moscatel knows what a win this week in the co-sanctioned event would mean.
“I just try to play but yes, obviously it’s life-changing for sure, for sure, coming from a satellite tour,” said Moscatel.
“But we’ll see. Step by step.
“In the Spanish Open, one of my best friends was leading at one point. He finished the first day third and you always think like he’s going to win, but there’s a lot of golf to play and a lot of good players, so it can happen any way.”
Headed for the PGA TOUR in 2024, Lee displayed the type of golf that saw him post 30-under in winning the Macao Open on the Asian Tour just a few weeks ago.
Playing with Smith and MacIntyre, Lee took until just his third hole to make birdie and added a second immediately afterwards at the par-4 13th.
After making the turn in 2-under, Lee picked off two further birdies at one and two, holed a 35-footer from the front of the green for birdie on five and then closed out a back nine of 5-under 31 with a birdie at the par-5 ninth.
“I was actually pretty nervous, which I haven’t really felt in a while, just before the round, but that’s usually good for me,” said the world No.45.
“I’d rather not get too comfortable. But I felt really good out there and it’s awesome to have such a big crowd, especially at 6 o’clock in the morning.
“It was solid. I’m happy they came and supported us.”
Tied fifth in his most recent start on the PGA TOUR, Scott was 1-over through his first five holes but made five birdies in the space of six holes around the turn to bring his hopes of a third Joe Kirkwood Cup roaring back to life.
A bunker lesson with Aussie veteran Brett Rumford on Wednesday paid dividends on Scott’s final hole, the 43-year-old getting up-and-down from the greenside bunker on nine for a closing birdie and round of 5-under.
“I think that was when I was truly waking up, maybe about 7,” Scott said of his charge in the midway part of his round.
“It happens. You’ve just got to keep making good swings at it and doing what you’re doing.
“I’m just happy to have played a solid round and starting on the right foot anyway.”
After two early birdies, Herbert used a run of four straight birdies from the 12th hole in the afternoon wave to put his name in the frame after Round 1.
“I feel like it was a tough day out there,” Herbert said.
“It was just good to get the round off to a good start. You look at the board and Min’s out there at 7-under and I saw another score at 8-under as well. If you don’t make a birdie in the first few holes it can feel like you’ve got to start pushing a bit harder, because you feel like you’re so far behind.
“I put a good score on the board, I think we’re fourth or fifth or something like that after we’ve walked off the course at least, so that gives me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the week.”
Herbert is in the first group off the 10th tee at 6am on Friday morning while Lee, Scott and Smith will play in the afternoon wave.
The Fortinet Australian PGA Championship is live on Nine and Fox Sports, available on Foxtel and Kayo.
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