Tianjin, China – Matthew Baldwin fired a seven-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead of the China Open at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
The 26-year-old Englishman owns a one-shot lead over Joost Luiten, Gary Boyd, 2009 winner Scott Strange, Fredrik Andersson Hed, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Avantha Masters champion Jbe Kruger.
"I just tried to keep everything as simple as I could," said Baldwin. "My caddie and I set out this morning with a game plan of trying to make 18 pars and take our chances when they came and it turned out to be one of those days where there were a lot of chances and I managed to take a few of them."
He began with a birdie at the first, then parred his next three before another birdie at the fifth. Baldwin closed out his opening nine with two birdies in his last three holes.
At four-under, Baldwin continued his fine form at the 10th. He tallied back- to-back birdies at 10 and 11, then went on a par run.
Baldwin recorded five consecutive pars, but broke away from the pack in second at the 17th. He poured in a six-footer for birdie to reach seven-under par, and parred the last for the first-round lead.
"It was very good today so I am happy with that," he said. "This is not the lowest round of my tour career. I shot nine-under at East London Club in South Africa earlier in the season, but this would be the second lowest."
Baldwin is a graduate of the European Challenge Tour last year. He won the Fred Olsen Challenge de Espana in 2011 and finished 10th on the circuit's money list, which was enough to earn the promotion to the main tour.
So far in 2012, Baldwin is 107th in the Race to Dubai. He took 10th in the Africa Open, but has made only three cuts in six starts since then.
The good news for Baldwin is those three made cuts came in his last three starts.
"I have been playing well for the past three events really and I am just trying to enjoy the experience of being on tour for the first time," said Baldwin. "I played on the Challenge Tour last year and didn't know what to expect out here, but it is better than I expected because there is just so much going on at the tournaments."
Branden Grace, who, along with last week's Malaysian Open winner and Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, is a two-time winner this season, and on Thursday, he carded a five-under 67.
Grace was joined in a share of eighth by 2008 winner Damien McGrane, Graeme Storm, Ignacio Garrido, Richie Ramsay, Marcus Fraser and Richard Finch.
NOTES: Defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts, 2005 winner Paul Casey, 2010 European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie and this year's Sicilian Open winner Thorbjorn Olesen headline a group tied for 15th at four-under 68...Ian Poulter and third-round Masters leader Peter Hanson both had one-under 71s on Thursday.