Veteran Horne takes early lead

Golf's new world order, led by world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, is flushed with youth and talent but it was left to seasoned campaigner Keith Horne to turn back the clock with a vintage performance on the opening day of the SMBC Singapore Open.

The South African veteran fired a five-under 66 yesterday, including a closing birdie on the 413m, par-four 9th - his final hole after starting from the 10th - to break out of a tie and co-leads the US$1 million (S$1.44 million) tournament alongside American Berry Henson, who has one more hole to play.

They are a stroke ahead of Singapore Open debutants Spieth and 2015 European Tour Rookie of the Year An Byeong Hun.

A 65-minute late afternoon lightning delay at the Sentosa Golf Club meant that 57 of the 156-man field did not finish their rounds as play was suspended at 6.39pm.

Japan's Shintaro Kobayashi and Thai Namchok Tantipokhakul were also four-under with uncompleted holes at the Serapong course which saw Spieth, the game's biggest attraction after his wins at the Masters and US Open last year, trailed by huge crowds throughout the morning session.

Nevertheless, it was the unexpected interloper Horne, ranked 227th in the world, who grabbed the headlines and made a mockery of that pecking order.

The 44-year-old Durban-native narrowly kept his Asian Tour card by finishing 59th on last season's Order of Merit. Horne, who joined the paid ranks in 1996 when Spieth was three and An was five, savoured turning the tables on the upstarts.

He said: "I think they were just born when I turned professional so it's always nice when you play well and get off to a great start."

Two birdies in as many holes was certainly a fine opening on the greens and Horne, with eight victories - most recently last year - on the Sunshine Tour back home but winless on the Asian Tour, was equally deadly from the tee box.

He missed just a single fairway and said: "I put a new driver in the bag and hit it longer by 15 yards (13.7m) and straight and that made a huge difference."

For Henson, 36, his reaction to his first bogey of the day on the treacherous 439m, par-four 3rd - where two-time PGA Tour winner Daniel Chopra took a nine - was equally telling.

The world No. 393, who does a mean impression of John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, notched three straight birdies and will return today with a spring in his step when first-round play resumes at 7.30am.

Perched at the top of the rankings ensures that belief is never in short supply for Spieth, who never looked in any serious trouble despite his unfamiliarity with the 6,765m lay-out and went bogey-free.

He said: "Speed control was great, with no three-putts and I had a lot of putts over 30 feet today, eight or nine of them."

The 24-year-old An, at world No. 26 and the next highest-ranked player in the tournament, was also pleased with his first outing in the Republic as he kept pace with Speith, his former US collegiate rival.

Both men had identical scorecards - birdies on holes 4, 7, 10 and 18 - with no dropped shots in between.

He said: "I didn't really make any stupid mistakes today with my shots, so I was happy overall.

"There are a lot of other good players who can win this event so I just got to play my golf and play well and we'll see for the next three days."

This is the second time this month that Horne finds himself in the lead of a national Open. He had surged ahead in the South Africa Open before ending tied-fourth on Jan 10 and was keen to improve on his eighth-placed finish at the 2010 Singapore Open.

Coincidentally, it was also his last appearance at the Singapore Open but for a man who had to wait nine years in between his first and second professional title, patience is clearly a virtue he possesses.

He said: "It's nice to renew my friendship with the golf course... I haven't played here for a couple of years. But whenever I do come over here, I generally play well."

This article was first published on January 29, 2016.
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