Australia’s Brett Coletta and Japan’s Yuwa Kosaihira each shot 67, one ahead of Junya Kameshiro of Japan and KK Limbhasut, Thailand’s top amateur, who played with Davis and China’s defending champion Jin Cheng (72) at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club.
New Zealand’s Nick Coxon was sixth after a 69, one ahead of 16-year-old Indian Rayhan Thomas, Takumi Kanaya of Japan and Australia’s U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck, the world’s second-ranked amateur.
Davis, 21, was the leading individual and part of the winning Australia team with Luck at the World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico and he continued that form on Thursday with a birdie on his opening hole at 10 and further birdies at 12, 13 and 15.
A bogey on the second was his only hiccup of the day but he soon rebounded from that by recording four consecutive birdies from the fifth.
“It was nice to play some really good golf and keep some form going. I was just trying to enjoy the round, the scenery and the golf course because the more pressure you put on yourself in an event like this, the harder it is to perform and concentrate,” said Davis, who finished a shot behind Jin last year after the fourth round was cancelled.
“Conditions were good. There wasn’t too much breeze, not more than a club and a half of wind out there so that doesn’t hurt too much off the tee. The greens were still quite soft so the ball was stopping pretty quickly. It wasn’t too difficult but I still had to hit some really good shots.”
The Sydneysider was the early front-runner, moving to four-under through his first six holes. Limbhasut eagled 18 to pull within a shot and took the lead with a birdie at two when Davis bogeyed. The Thai doubled his lead after a birdie on three but a bogey on five – which Davis birdied – put them all square before the Australian pulled away with three more birdies.
“It does help to have people in your group going well because you’re watching a lot of good shots and seeing how they’re reacting in the wind,” said Davis who holed a 20-footer on eight. “You can also get a couple of really good reads on the greens because they’re putting well.”
Davis also warned that Jin deserved more than his even-par round and that more could be expected of the 18-year-old defending champion.
“He left a lot of putts out there. The way he’s hitting the ball, you expect him to have a good run for the rest of the tournament. He did start off finding lots of fairways and greens so it’s just a matter of time for him to hole putts.”
Kosaihira, 18, said he was able to make the most of the wind and fired six birdies that included a 20-foot putt on his opening hole at 10 and a 30-foot putt on the par-three eighth.
“Today’s round was perfect for me except for my bogey on 13,” Kosaihira said. “I got a birdie on my first hole (10) and that put me in a good rhythm. I used the wind to my advantage to give me some good positions on my tee-shots. I like these conditions.”
Coletta, the 2015 U.S. Amateur stroke-play medallist, birdied 17 and 18 to join fellow debutant Kosaihira in a share of second place. The Melbourne-based 20-year-old admitted he was happy with his score considering his pre-tournament nerves and the mid-afternoon conditions.
“I told my coach before I teed off that I was nervous, that I haven’t been this nervous for a long time. It’s because of the tournament, the hype; there are all these cameras around and people everywhere. The coach said it was good and that you want to have those nerves. I put those nerves into action and changed them into focus and energy,” Coletta said.
“It was one of the better rounds I’ve had this year but I definitely thought it was challenging. It was a grind all day but I got off to a good start and finished with a couple of birdies, which is always nice. I hit some great shots out there with the wind getting up.”
Limbhasut, the UCLA star who has been based in the United States for six years, recovered from a nervy start to light up his round with an eagle on 18 after holing a 20-foot putt from the front of the green.
“I got off to a pretty rough start. I hit a pretty bad drive on my first hole but somehow got par and then hit a good par putt on two. I’m not a long hitter like Cameron Davis and I thought the first three holes were playing pretty hard. I tried to stay patient and the eagle on my ninth was pretty nice,” said the Bangkok-born 20-year-old who was full of praise for the leader.
“Cam was impressive to watch. He struck the ball really well today and made a lot of good putts – 10-footers, 15-footers. It was awesome golf by him today.”
This week’s AAC features 118 players from 38 APGC member associations. Television coverage includes three hours of live broadcast on each of the four days and a 30-minute highlights show, and will be aired in more than 160 countries, once again making it the world’s most televised amateur golf tournament.
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