Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan: Arjun Atwal, who spent a whole year without status on PGA Tour, brought home a card of three-under 69 to be the best Indian at the end of the first day of the 150 million Yen Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup, here on Thursday.
Atwal was three behind the Australian rookie Cameron Smith who outshone his more illustrious rivals by taking the first round lead with a flawless five-under-par 66.
Among the other Indians, Anirban Lahiri, second on the Order of Merit, shot one-under 70 to be tied 16th, while SSP Chowrasia and Rahil Gangjee carded even par 71 to be tied 30th. Jyoti Randhawa (73) was tied 61st, Digvijay Singh and amateur Pratap Atwal shot 76 each to be 104th and Rashid Khan struggled to 78 in tied 122nd place.
Atwal parred the first nine holes after starting from the 10th and then had four birdies between the first and sixth holes. He also bogeyed the second and seventh for 69.
Atwal, who is playing on a sponsor's invitation this week, repaid the faith of the event sponsors by putting up a performance befitting of his reputation as one of India's most successful golfers.
"I love it here and I really want to thank the JGA (Japan Golf Association) for giving me an invite to this tournament. I really appreciate it," said Atwal.
"It was really unexpected as I didn't really play that well in Malaysia last week. But today was really solid as I hit lots of fairways and greens. It wasn't easy as it was raining and it was windy at times but overall it was still a good solid round," he added.
The 41-year-old has enjoyed seven career victories on the Asian Tour and is also a one-time Order of Merit champion. Although he is based in the United States now, Atwal, who became the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship in 2010, is always drawn to reuniting with his peers on the Asian Tour.
"I always like coming back to the Asian Tour and like I have always said, it's the friendliest Tour in the world and I love it," said Atwal.
Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita, Kiyoshi Murota and Keiichiro signed for matching 68s to share second place with Thailand's Namchok Tantipokhakul and Korea's S K Ho.
Leader White, who earned his Tour card by finishing tied-18th at Qualifying School this year, is in form and it continued to show with him taking prime position atop the leaderboard and holding a two-shot lead over five players bunched in tied second place.