Tianjin, China – Robert-Jan Derksen turned in a 6-under-par 66 on Thursday and grabbed a 2-stroke lead after the opening round of the China Open.
Derksen, who hasn't won on the European Tour since 2005, birdied two of his last three holes at Binhai Lake Golf Club to move past Raphael Jacquelin, Brett Rumford and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who all shot 68s.
"I played well here last year, and decided to skip Korea last week to better prepare for this tournament, because the traveling can take it out of you," said Derksen. "So it looks like a good decision. It's only the first day, I know, but I haven't led a tournament for quite a while, so if I can keep rolling in the putts, hopefully we could be in for a good week."
World No. 40 Paul Lawrie, Mikko Ilonen, Lee Slattery, Aaron Townsend, Terry Pilkadaris and Sang-Hyun Park are tied for fifth place after opening-round 69s.
Defending champion and world No. 32 Branden Grace was 5-over through 13 holes before closing with three birdies in his last five for a 2-over 74.
Amateur Wo-cheng Ye of China became the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event when he teed off this morning. The 12-year-old struggled to a 79.
Jacquelin and Aphibarnrat went out early and raced to a share of the clubhouse lead. The former, a winner at last month's Open de Espana after a record nine- hole playoff, turned in four bogeys during his bogey-free round. The latter, who won his first European Tour title at the Maybank Malaysian Open in March, had five birdies against just one bogey.
"I have played well for three or four weeks in a row now, and will try to finish high up the leaderboard again this week," said Aphibarnrat. "In this type of wind you don't know how you will do, but I'll just try to do my best."
Rumford, last week's Ballantine's Championship winner, continued his strong play and grabbed a share of second courtesy of a bogey-free, four-birdie round.
Derksen hasn't had a top-10 finish on the European Tour in over two years but he didn't play like it on Thursday. He went out with the morning wave and was 1-over with two bogeys and a birdie through four holes before turning the tide.
The run began with a gain on the sixth, and after a par at the next, Derksen reeled off a hatrick of birdies through No. 10. He reached the clubhouse mark of 4-under when he chipped within eight feet and birdied the 12th, and then pulled ahead with gains on Nos. 16 and 18.
"It was a funny day, because I started well with a birdie from about five feet, but then 3-putted the third and fourth and ended up in three divots on the fairways later in the round," said Derksen
"I made a lot of birdies, and I've ended the day in a really good position. The wind was difficult to judge, even on the greens. But I started making a few putts and my confidence lifted."
NOTES: Derksen's last win on the European Tour was at the 2005 Madeira Island Open. His only other win on the circuit came at the 2003 Dubai Desert Classic ... Grace finished tied for 18th at the Masters three weeks ago. He has three top-10 finishes on the European Tour this season after recording four wins in 2012 ... Ye qualified for this tournament by finishing in the top three in the Western China Qualifying. He is 12 years and 242 days old. The previous record was held by Tianlang Guan, who was 13 years and 177 days old in this event in 2012. Guan went on to become the youngest player to compete and make the cut at the Masters this year.