From The European Tour
Branden Grace fired a blemish free 63 to open up a one shot lead on the first day of the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions.
A star-studded field had assembled at Sheshan International Golf Club as the second event of The Final Series presented a chance to pick up vital points in The Race to Dubai.
And Grace, already a two-time winner on The European Tour this season, got in a good position to move up from his current spot of sixth as he finished the first round on nine under, five shots clear of Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy.
Thorbjørn Olesen, Steven Bowditch and Kevin Kisner were all a shot behind the South African with 15 players within four shots of the lead.
Grace is currently 1,110,197 points behind McIlroy in the battle to be Europe’s number one but with big prizes on offer in The Final Series, the 27 year old will be looking to overtake the Northern Irishman.
“It was a fun day. From the start I started hitting the ball nicely and missed a couple of short putts which was costly.
“Could have been lower but made a couple of nice ones that cancelled the others out.
“The ball-striking was probably the best it’s been in a long time, so that was the main key today.
“Barely had a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing.
“There’s some low scores out there. The guys are playing some great golf, and when you play on greens like this as well it helps. You just have to get the ball on the right line and it goes in.”
Danny Willett trails McIlroy by just 399,385 points and he signed for an opening 65 to sit just two shots off the lead alongside American duo Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed.
World Number Two Jordan Spieth was sat alongside McIlroy after a 68 with defending champion Bubba Watson, Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award contender Matthew Fitzpatrick and Louis Oosthuizen all also in the group at four under.
Grace turned in 31 after birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 18th and continued to move up the leaderboard with gains at the second, fifth and seventh.
Bowditch and Kisner had already signed for their rounds of 64 when Grace stood over his second shot on the ninth and he put it inside five feet to finish with a birdie and move out in front on his own.
American Kisner was flawless in his opening 64 and he recorded 32 on each side while Bowditch signed for nine birdies and a bogey.
Olesen got off to a flying start with birdies on his first three holes and when more followed on the fifth, sixth and eighth, he turned in 30. Another birdie followed on the tenth and, while he dropped his only shot of the day on the 14th, two closing birdies moved him to eight under.
Willett picked up a shot on his opening hole, the tenth, before further gains followed on the 14th, 16th and 18th.
More birdies followed on the second, third and seventh and when the 28 year old rolled a beautiful 25-foot putt up the hill on the eighth, he held a share of the lead.
A bogey was to come on his last to drop him back but Willett can be pleased with his opening day’s work.
Reed turned in 31 as he picked up five shots in his first seven holes and added another birdie at the second. Birdie putts went begging as the Ryder Cup star found his range with the wedges but just one more birdie on the eighth would arrive.
Johnson turned in 34 with three birdies and a bogey but an eagle on the second seemed to bring him to life and he picked up further shots on the fourth, seventh and eighth to come home in 31.
Haotong Li was then the only player at six under as two closing birdies made it eight in total in a 66.
Thomas Pieters was playing in his first ever WGC event but looked at home in firing a 67 while Paul Casey, Harris English, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Tommy Fleetwood, Russell Knox and Xinjun Zhang were also five under.
McIlroy began with a birdie and picked up another shot on the 14th but a double bogey followed before he fought back with birdies on the 16th and 18th.
Further birdies then arrived on the second and third before the World Number Three parred his way home.
Spieth turned in 35 despite a lost ball on the 17th and added further birdies on the second, seventh and eighth.