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Senden leads at Emirates Australian Open

John SendenSYDNEY, Dec. 6 - Former champion John Senden fired a sizzling six-under-par 66 for a two shot lead after the first round of the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney on Thursday.

The Australian 41-year-old, who won in 2006 and finished runner-up to Greg Chalmers in last year's edition of the A$1.25 million OneAsia event, made the most of near-perfect conditions to head a five-strong chasing pack that included England's Justin Rose.

Home favourite Adam Scott had three bogeys and three birdies to finish at level par around the 6,290-metre (6,879-yard) course, which is hosting the tournament for a third successive year.

The Emirates Australian Open, co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the PGA Tour of Australasia, is the penultimate event on both tours.

Senden, playing the course back-to-front, shot five birdies on his relatively easier front nine before giving two shots back at the second and third holes.

"We had a perfect day this morning. It was the best conditions out there," said the Queenslander, whose joint 10th-place finish at the U.S. Open earlier this year helped propel him into the world's top 50 for the first time.

"I went out there and felt good playing and got off to a good start and tried to hang on at the end of the day when the wind started to get a bit breezy, so I'm quite happy with my round."

Players consider the back nine, which has three par fives, to be the easier side of the sandbelt track -- particular on the rare days when the wind doesn't blow.

"The par fives are pretty much reachable with today's breeze so that's where you've got to make your score," said Senden.


"The front nine can be tricky in places, but there are good opportunities all over this golf course."

Rose and Scott, good friends off the course, are playing the first two rounds together this week but had contrasting fortunes on Thursday.

Also playing it backwards, Scott had three bogeys and two birdies to make the turn at one over, before mixing two birdies with two bogeys on his homeward nine.

Rose went off like a firecracker and was five under after nine holes, but a bogey on the par-four third blotted an otherwise flawless inward nine and left him two shots off the pace.

Joining him at four under was OneAsia winner Kim Felton, who scrambled to six birdies despite being a touch wayward in his approach play.

Felton has had a miserable year by his own admittance, but the 2010 Midea China Classic winner has eased back into form of late and won a local tour event last weekend that set him up for his favourite tournament.

European Tour regular Richard Green, Japan Tour stalwart Brendan Jones and New Zealander Gareth Paddison also share second place.

Defending champion Chalmers put in a steady start to his defence of the title with a 71 that included four birdies. Chalmers is also defending champion at next week's Australian PGA Championship, the last event on the OneAsia calendar.

With the Order of Merit title still up for grabs, 2012 tournament winners Nick Cullen (70) and Matthew Griffin (75) of Australia, and China's Liang Wenchong (73) could all still pip absent leader Kim Bi-o of Korea if they can claim the A$225,000 first prize.

"It's windy here and difficult to judge the distance and choose the right club," Liang said.

A pair of 14-year-old Chinese amateurs have drawn media attention and the crowds with their participation in Sydney this week.

Florida-based Andy Zhang, who earlier this year became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Open, was four over after the first nine, but steadied the ship to finish on 76.

That was two shots better than veteran American Tom Watson, the five-time Open Championship winner, who is battling through a heavy cold and played bundled up despite the warm conditions.

Guan Tianlang, the other Chinese prodigy and who next year will become the youngest player ever to compete in the U.S. Masters, found the length and wind a bit much on Thursday and struggled to an 82.