Gates, tied with Australian Andrew Buckle, birdied the final two holes – holing a 45-footer on No. 18.
On the par-3 14th, Gates had to wait while course marshals scared away a kangaroo near the front of the tee. After the delay, Gates pulled his tee shot into the water and made a bogey. He blamed shifting wind rather than the misplaced marsupial for the errant shot.
“It was kind of fun to watch … pretty cool,” he said. “I think the wind was more a factor out there … it didn’t end up very well.”
China’s Liang Wenchong, 1983 Australian Open winner Peter Fowler and Steve Bowditch, who grew up a few miles from the course, shot 66s. Geoff Ogilvy, the Australian Open winner last week in Sydney, shot a 70, defending champion Robert Allenby had a 70 and American John Daly opened with a 71.
Adam Scott had a rough start, recording a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 13th after beginning his round on the 10th. He put two balls in the water on the pond-lined hole and shot 40 on the back nine en route to a 73.
“I salvaged something out of a pretty ordinary 13th hole,” Scott said. “I hooked it in the water and then dropped it into a bad lie on a down slope, and then hit it fat into the water.”
With greens soft from recent rain and virtually no wind early, Buckle, who had a 6:20 a.m. start, shot 33 on the front nine and 31 on the more difficult back nine, including birdies on the 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th. His 5-foot downhill birdie putt on 18 stopped on the lip of the cup.
The 28-year-old Buckle has struggled since playing the PGA Tour in 2007 and 2008. He finished 72nd this year on the Nationwide Tour money list and will return to the United States next year in an effort to get back to the main tour,
“It’s been tough,” Buckle said. “It’s still hard for me to get my head around the fact that I might be a decent golfer. Days like today will help. When I got on the PGA Tour I was quite young and maybe I wasn’t quite ready for it. It was hard for me to get my head around a lot of things because I have never really thought I was that great a player, just loved playing golf.”
Things are far different for Gates, who won the New Zealand Open on the Nationwide Tour and has graduated to the PGA Tour for next season.
He played in last week’s Australian Open, finishing in a tie for 12th, and had a good reason for coming Down Under for two late tournaments.
“Part of it was the fact that I was pretty high up on the Order of Merit (third place on the Australasian tour), part of it was going into my rookie year next year, and it seems like all of the Aussies are pretty well prepared for Hawaii and the West Coast,” Gates said.
He added: “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it is summer down here and they use these weeks to prepare and get ready for the 2011 season.”
Liang, who finished in a tie for eighth at this year’s PGA Championship, said he likes the Coolum course.
“The fairway distance is not that long so there are more opportunities to shoot on to greens, and to get into a better position,” Liang said through a translator.