Finland, Wales tie at World Cup

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Finland and Wales tied for the early lead on Thursday in the first round of the World Cup of Golf at the Mission Hills Golf Club in southern China.

Updated: November 23, 2007 12:21 IST
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Shenzhen, China:

Finland and Wales tied for the early lead on Thursday in the first round of the World Cup of Golf at the Mission Hills Golf Club in southern China.

Pasi Purhonen and Mikko Ilonen of Finland and the Wales team of Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd both opened with 9-under 63s.

Several teams expected to contend went out late in the 28-team field, which included Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman of South Africa, Englishmen Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, Americans Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley, and the Scottish pair of Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren.

Purhonen, who coaches the Finnish amateur team and last played on the European tour in 2004, carded five birdies and an eagle. Ilonen had three birdies but dropped a shot.

Defending champion Marcel Siem and Bernhard Langer of Germany chose not to defend their title. Germany was represented by Alex Cejka and Martin Kaymer.

Purhonen got Finland off to a good start with an eagle on Number 3, lashing a 227-yard 3-wood to the green and then dropping a 15-foot putt.

"I knew if I gave him (Purhonen) a chance he would do everything he could to be ready," said Ilonen, ranked Number 63 on the world list. The top-ranked player on each team gets to choose his partner.

"I knew he would be in shape for the tournament, and that's what it turned out to be," Ilonen added.

Dredge and Dodd won the event two years ago in Portugal. Dredge provided his team's eagle, chipping in from 30 yards on the par-5 Number 9. Dodd added three birdies over the last four holes despite playing with a low-grade migraine.

Dodd said the migraines have troubled him much of his life and caused him to withdraw from at least one tournament this season.

"I've had them for as long as I can remember," Dodd said, leaning over to smile at Dredge. "But it's probably him that makes it worse."

The French pair of Raphael Jacquelin and Gregory Havret were a shot behind at 64 on the 7,251-yard Olazabal Course - one of 12 at the Mission Hills complex.

Two other teams were in early with 65: Lee Seung-ho and Lee Sung of South Korea, and Italy's Edoardo Molinari and his brother Francesco Molinari.

Paraguay's Carlos Franco and Fabrizio Zanotti were three back after a 66.

Though it's a stroke-play tournament, the format follows match-play rules. Thursday's first round is fourballs (better ball). The unusual event alternates daily between fourballs and foursomes (alternate-shot).

Although the event dates from 1953 - Hogan, Snead, Palmer and Nicklas have all won it - it's had trouble getting traction.

After being part of the World Golf Championships (WGC), it was cut loose after last year and begins a 12-year run at Mission Hills as an event co-sanctioned by all the major golf tours, including the United States and Europe.

Only two players from the top-20 ranking are playing, both Englishmen - Rose (8) and Poulter (20). The top-ranked American, Weekly (43), has 13 other Americans listed ahead of him in the world rankings.

U.S. PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said by moving to a permanent venue, he hoped the top American players might be attracted to play - perhaps including Number 1 Tiger Woods and Number 2 Phil Mickelson.

Even prize money of US$1.6 million to the winning team was not enough to lure players like Woods.

"The competitors are not members of a labor union; they are not under contract to play," Finchem said. "They can go and play as they choose."

The last high-profile pair to win the event was Retief Goosen and Ernie Els in 2001. Woods won in 1999 with Mark O'Meara and a year later with David Duval.

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