Date: November 21, 2008

Sheehan out in front

Unheralded Australian Paul Sheehan was surprised to find himself with the lead after the opening round at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Miyazaki, Japan. Sheehan, part of a large foreign contingent in the strongest field of the year on the Japan Tour, sank a curling 35-foot birdie at the last to post a four-under-par 67 on a cold, sunny day at Phoenix Country Club. “I&aposm very happy with the round but I certainly wasn&apost expecting it,” said Sheehan, who headed seven players – including American Brandt Snedeker, Swede Henrik Stenson and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – by one stroke. It was not a great day for a couple of the bigger names. South African Ernie Els dropped three early shots before recovering somewhat to card a one-over 72, while defending champion Ian Poulter struggled on the greens for a 73. Sheehan, a three-time winner on the Japan Tour, is a lowly 66th on this year&aposs money list, so it is little wonder he did not step on to the first tee with a huge amount of confidence. “This year hasn&apost been great,” said the 31-year-old. “I&aposve been struggling with the driver and that&aposs filtered through my game.” “I&aposve been trying to find something the last two months or so and something clicked on the range yesterday. Today I had good rhythm, putted well and gave myself good chances.” “I didn&apost have any expectations but I made a nice par on the first, where I got it up and down, and started to hit some nice shots.” Compatriots Brendan Jones and Steven Conran are tied for 23rd place after opening-round even-par 71s, while New Zealand&aposs David Smail is at two-over. Snedeker, meanwhile, feels right at home here on his second appearance. “I love the course. It&aposs a great set-up for me for some reason,” said the 27-year-old from Tennessee. “I don&apost normally hit it very straight but seeing the tree line makes me zone in and I seem to keep it in play.” “I made a couple of long putts, played the par fives really well and didn&apost make too many mistakes.” Stenson is also making his second start here and believes he is coming to terms with the extremely fast and undulating greens. “A bit of experience always helps,” he said, happy to find some form after a couple of indifferent results recently. “I&aposve been struggling with my tee shots a little bit the last couple of tournaments.” “I hit two bad ones at the end but I hit some great tee balls early on in the round. Overall, I&aposm happy with the day.” Els could not make the same claim. He struggled with his driver at times and in the end was happy to finish the day only five shots back. “I found it quite difficult today,” he admitted. “I had my problems. I could easily have made a bigger number.” “I didn&apost have great rhythm to my swing so I didn&apost feel very comfortable. It was a little cold and I didn&apost feel like I was swinging it great.” “Starting on the back nine, there are quite a few difficult holes right off the bat. I found myself under a bit of pressure.” Meanwhile, 17-year-old Japanese superstar Ryo Ishikawa battled to a 72 that included a penalty stroke and a lost ball. At the second hole, after driving into the stunted pines, he accidentally trod on his ball while contemplating his second shot, costing himself a penalty stroke. And he had more trouble at the par-four 14th, where his drive clattered into the pines and could not be found, somewhat amazingly considering he had the day&aposs largest gallery. He subsequently double-bogeyed the hole.