Australia’s Paul Sheehan birdied the 18th hole for a bogey-free four-under-par 67 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Dunlop Phoenix men’s golf tournament on Thursday.

The 31-year-old Australian, who has three victories on the Japan Tour, sank four birdies on the 7,010-yard Phoenix Country Club course in Western Japan.

Seven golfers were tied at second place on 68, including Gonzalo Fdez-Castano of Spain, Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, American Brandt Snedeker and three Japanese players.

They were followed by South Koreans I. J. Chang, Lee Dong-Hwan and S. K. Ho, and Japan’s Hirofumi Miyase on 69.

“This year hasn’t been great. I’ve been struggling a bit with everything. I didn’t have any expectations but I made a nice par on the first, got it up and down and started to hit some nice shots,” said Sheehan.

“I made a nice par save on nine which kept the momentum going and then played really nicely the back nine and holed a couple of nice putts on 11 and holed one on the last. I was just trying to get close. It was about 35 feet, a big curler.

“I just played really steady today. It was nice to shoot a good score. (I’m) Very happy with the round but certainly wasn’t expecting it,” he added.

Pre-tournament favourite Ernie Els of South Africa carded two birdies against three bogeys to tie for 34th place on 72, while English Ryder Cup star Ian Poulter was tied in 46th place after hitting two birdies and four bogeys for 73.