KOREAN SANGMOON BAE rolled back the years in the Kolon Korea Open presented by ELORD today, the event he won in 2008 and 2009, taking a share of the lead on the opening day.

He carded a four-under-par 67 at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club, the venue for both of his wins, along with countrymen Kyungnam Kang, second here last year, and Sungyeol Kwon.

England’s Steve Lewton returned a 68 along with Koreans Yubin Jang, who stormed home with an eagle on the iconic par-five 18th, Taehoon Ok and Jinjae Byun, plus Chinese-Taipei’s Chan Shih-chang.

Bae is based in the United States, where he has triumphed on the US PGA Tour twice and on the Web.com Tour once, and rarely returns to play on home soil.

However, he played in the Korean PGA Championship on the Korean PGA Tour at the start of the month, finishing in a tie for second place, and he looks to be in a similar vein of form this week.

He turns 38 tomorrow and is revelling being in the lead in a big event, something that does not happen so often these days, unlike the majority of his brilliant career.

“I’m excited and nervous to compete at the top,” he said.

“There is also some anxiety. So many other great players are in contention. To win you have to play well for four days. I have to play carefully and calmly.”

He started on the back nine and made six birdies in total, including on 17 and 18, and carded two bogeys. He chipped in for two of those birdies, on 10 and 17.

Despite his fine start, he felt his game was far from under control on a golf course set up by the Korean Golf Association to try and mirror Major championship conditions, with fast greens and unforgiving rough.

Said Bae: “My shots with my driver didn’t go the way I wanted them to, I played a lot of shots from the rough and missed plenty of greens. I also struggled with my pitch shots. But overall, I’m happy with the way I played. Those chip ins gave me momentum.”

He also said he is drawing inspiration from Korean legend K.J. Choi after he won the SK Telecom Open in Korea last month at the age of 54 – becoming the oldest golfer to win a tournament on the Korean PGA Tour.

“I watched K.J.’s win and I was inspired. I texted him after the second round and said, ‘you young kids are killing it’. We talked for 10 minutes.”

Bae’s most recent win came at the Albertsons Boise Open on the Web.com Tour in 2018, a year after he had completed his National Service in Korea.

Prior to his near two-year stint with the military, he had established himself as one of his country’s finest players. He triumphed on the PGA Tour in 2013 and 2014, claimed nine titles in Korea, and won three events on both the Asian Tour and Japan Tour.

Lewton’s solid opening round reflects his excellent start to the season which has seen him make the cut in all five of the events he has entered.

“I have only played here once before, last year, and really struggled,” said Lewton, who made a 27-hour trip from his home in Leicester to get here.

“The course is slightly different this year, there is not quite as much rough even though it is still very penal. I came with a slightly different game plan: I didn’t hit nearly as many drivers. I used the driver five times; last year I hit it about 10.”

He is currently in 20th position on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, having tied for ninth in the season-opening Malaysian Open, his best result of the season to date, while he also finished equal 11th when the Tour was last in Korea for the GS Caltex Maekyung Open last month.

He added: “I worked hard over the break. I feel like I have played pretty good for three rounds but it’s just one round that just isn’t quite good enough, don’t always know which round it is going to be. My goal this week is to have four consistent rounds. I changed my swing over the break, working with my coach, Corey Vincent, the brother of my caddie, and a 3D coach in the US, on posture and alignment.”

A big football fan, when asked if he planned to watch the England Denmark game in the Euros tonight, which is on at 1 a.m. in Seoul, he replied: “100% yes!”

Thailand’s Chonlatit Chuenboonngam, who was beaten in a sudden-death play-off at the GS Caltex Maekyung Open, is clearly enjoying being back in Korea after shooting a 70.

Korean Hongtaek Kim, the man who beat him to win that event, fired a 73.

Defending champion Seungsu Han from the United States got off to the worst possible start carding an 82.

This year marks the 66th staging of Korea’s flagship tournament, which has been played at Woo Jeong Hills, an hour outside of the capital Seoul, since 2003.

It is once again part of the Open Qualifying Series, meaning the leading two players, not otherwise exempt, will qualifying for the forthcoming Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club, to be played from July 18-21.

Total prizemoney for the event is KRW1,400,000,000 (approx. US$1.013 million).