SCOTT Hend has made a strong start to the Race to Dubai Finals firing a 3-under opening round in Turkey overnight to be just four shots off the pace.
South Africa’s George Coetzee holds the outright lead at 7-under, one ahead of Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Hend’s 68 is good for a share of 15th as the Queenslander looks to cap off the best season of his professional career in style.
Teeing off the first, Hend was slow out of the blocks with a bogey on his opening hole but turned things around quickly with three birdies in a four hole stretch from the third.
Going to the turn 2-under, the 42-year-old looked a chance to produce a low number but rattled off five straight pars to begin the homeward journey before picking up his only stroke of the back nine at the 14th.
Hend is one of six players at 3-under and well in contention with 54 holes to play.
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It was a welcome return to form for the leader Coetzee who has managed just one top 10 in an otherwise difficult season.
Starting at the 11th hole on the unusually routed Regnum Carya course, Coetzee went to the turn 2-under after a bogey at the 17th.
But things heated up on his inward journey with the three-time Tour winner reeling off five birdies between the first and 11th holes.
Coetzee admitted after his round he had sacrificed much of his year to work through major swing changes but said he felt the work was now starting to pay off.
“It's been a long, hard process,” he said. “Not been playing really well. Just had to be patient and luckily now is a good time as any for it to start clicking.
“I did sacrifice a bit this year with obviously not playing great and working on stuff, and not going back to the bad habits.
“But yeah, I'm happy I did it. It feels really comfortable out there, so I feel it will pay off.”
With some of the Tour’s biggest stars electing not to make the trip to Turkey some of the lesser lights have grabbed the opportunity to shine, China’s Hao Tong Li among them.
A blemish free 5-under 66 has the rising star in a share of third and looking forward to a good week after the pressure of playing the WGC event in his home country last week.
“It's been very solid, especially compared to last week,” he said. “I only missed one green today and had so many birdie chances, and also catch a few times, was really good today.
“It's more enjoy this week, more relaxed. So hopefully keep the same feeling for next couple days and hopefully play well.
“People expectations of me very, very high last week. Hopefully next year play well there.”
With Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson choosing not to play the first of the Finals Series events second placed Danny Willett, who has been atop the standings for much of the year, has the chance to grab back the lead.
After a run of disappointing form the Masters champion opened his campaign with a credible 2-under 69 though it could have been much better.
Willett managed six birdies in his round but added two bogies and a double at the 10th though was pleased enough with his day’s work.
“It's good and bad, isn't it,” he said. “I hit some great iron shots. I thought iron and play and wedges and stuff was really spot on.
“Still struggling to get the consistency and the flight off the tee. A few good ones, just a couple that cost me a few silly shots and you see a couple of small errors.
“It's a lot better than what it has been. I gave myself some chances again. It was better. It was a lot more positive.”
Nathan Holman is the only other Australian to have qualified for the Finals but continued a run of disappointing form on his way to a 4-over 75 to be near the tail of the field.
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