HONG KONG (Reuters) - Taiwan's Lu Wei-chih, who almost quit golf three years ago after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, upstaged a high-quality field to grab a share of the lead at the European Tour's Hong Kong Open on Thursday.
The 36-year-old fired eight birdies on the way to a six-under-par 64 to sit level with Italian Andrea Pavan in the co-sanctioned Asian Tour event.
To be heading a field featuring major winners Justin Rose (65), Graeme McDowell (66) and Padraig Harrington (70) is a fantastic achievement for world number 786 Lu, who endured a slow recovery after having a non-malignant tumour removed in 2012.
"For the first six months after my surgery, I pretty much gave up all my confidence and trust because I felt so weak and I didn’t think I could play golf anymore," Lu, a three-times winner on the Asian Tour, told reporters.
"I could hardly walk through all 18 holes. But about a year later, I started talking to the Asian Tour and they gave me the opportunity to get back on the Tour and play some events.
"Finally, I started coming back mentally and physically."
Englishman Rose fired a bogey-free round at Fanling to keep on the coattails of the lead duo and share third alongside Lu's compatriot CT Pan and Indian Jeev Milkha Singh.
Irishman Kevin Phelan needs a top-six finish to retain his European Tour card for next season and he made a good start with a four-under 66 to sit tied sixth with Northern Irishman McDowell among others.
Englishman Ian Poulter showed no ill-effects of a late long-haul dash to Hong Kong from Florida by firing a three-under 67 for a share of 12th.
Poulter dropped out of the top 50 in the world rankings on Sunday, making him ineligible for next week's HSBC Champions event in China and unable to complete the 13 events required to maintain his European Tour membership next season.
He was only able to take a spot in the field in Hong Kong after former U.S. PGA champion Rich Beem gave up his place and he required local professional Alan Gibson to step in as caddie with his regular bag man on holiday.
After all the drama, the Englishman was pleased to be in contention.
"Fairly happy with that result today... 3 under par and left a few out there. Fair chance of a little snooze in the courtesy car to hotel,” Poulter posted on Twitter.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Peter Rutherford)