Rory McIlroy recovers to move into contention in Shanghai
Local favourite Li Haotong leads the way at eight under with McIlroy just three back
Rory McIlroy putts during the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai. Photo: Hector Retamal/ Getty Images
Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start to position himself nicely at five under par just three shots off the lead held by Li Haotong after the first round at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.
After starting on the 10th McIlroy bogeyed his first hole before getting back to level par with a birdie two at the 10th. However, inconsistency would be the bane of the first half of his round as another bogey followed at the 13th before birdies at the 14th and 16th and a third dropped shot of the round at the Par 5 18th.
But the four-time Major winner then turned on the style on the way in. A stunning second shot at the Par 5 second left him just five feet for his eagle and, although his putt slipped right and missed, the tap-in birdie lit his charge as he went on to birdie the next three holes in-a-row to move to four under. Another three at the Par 4 seventh capped a back nine of 31 and a round of 67 to sit three behind Li whose 64 sees him top the leaderboard at eight under.
Shane Lowry also suffered from inconsistency in his opening round as he signed for a level par 72 despite making five birdies along the way, offset by a double bogey at the fifth and two bogeys to finish at the eighth and ninth after also dropped a shot at his opening hole, the 10th.
But it was local favourite Li Haotong who rode a wave of home support to grab the first-round lead.
Li, one of seven Chinese players in the field, carded an eight-under-par 64, capping off his day by sinking a 12-foot par-saving putt at his final hole as the gallery roared in approval at Sheshan International.
He holds a one-shot advantage over Frenchman Victor Perez, while American defending champion Xander Schauffele, Australian Adam Scott, South Korean Im Sung-jae and Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick are two behind in the World Golf Championships event.
South African Louis Oosthuizen had a hole-in-one from 197 yards at the sixth on the way to a 68.
Li, twice a winner on the European Tour, has been ranked as high as 32nd in the world but is currently outside the top 50 after a disappointing year. He is coming off two straight missed cuts and was as surprised as anyone with Thursday’s score.
“In my previous tournament I wasn’t really playing that well (so) I never expected today, that I (would have) such a great round,” the Tour’s website quoted him as saying.
“Obviously it would be a great joy for Chinese golfers and Chinese golf fans to have a Chinese player winning a WGC-HSBC Champions here in China but for the next three days, anything could happen,” said the 24-year-old.
“So I don’t want to think too much about it. I just want to focus and concentrate on the upcoming three days.”
Second-placed Perez has seen his stock rise recently thanks to a victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews four weeks ago.
Another shot behind, 2013 Masters champion Scott said the course was demanding, despite the glut of low scores.
“It plays tough if you’re not in the fairway,” said the Australian. “The rough is really nasty this year and it’s firmer than I remember it.”
Scott finished off his round with a bogey but it could have been worse after his approach shot from a fairway bunker drifted into a pond right of the green. After taking a penalty stroke, he hit a deft pitch that trickled down to tap-in distance.
One of the best drivers of the ball on Tour throughout his career, Scott has struggled with his swing of late but sounds happier now that he has switched to a new driver and widened his stance.
“I just haven’t had any good feelings of where the golf club is in the downswing and that’s never a nice thing,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to trust it as best I can. I finally found it last week, though my scoring didn’t indicate it. Everything’s looking good.”
Collated first round scores in the WGC — HSBC Champions, Sheshan International GC, China (British unless stated, par 72):
64 Haotong Li (Chn)
65 Victor Perez (Fra)
66 Xander Schauffele (USA), Adam Scott (Aus), Sungjae Im (Kor), Matthew Fitzpatrick
67 Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Corey Conners (Can), Matthias Schwab (Aut)
68 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Xinjun Zhang (Chn), Danny Willett, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)
69 JT Poston (USA), Matthew Millar (Aus), Matt Wallace, Jason Kokrak (USA), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Chez Reavie (USA), Tony Finau (USA), Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Justin Rose, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Billy Horschel (USA), Yechun Yuan (Chn)
70 Kurt Kitayama (USA), Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Neil Schietekat (Rsa), Joost Luiten (Ned), Bubba Watson (USA), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Cameron Smith (Aus), Jake McLeod (Aus), Robert Macintyre, Bryce Easton (Rsa), Yosuke Asaji (Jpn), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Henrik Stenson (Swe), Jordan Spieth (USA)
71 Phil Mickelson (USA), Andrew Putnam (USA), Chan Kim (USA), Andrea Pavan (Ita), Zecheng Dou (Chn), Jbe Kruger (Rsa), Kevin Tway (USA)
72 Shane Lowry (Irl), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Tyrrell Hatton, Kevin Kisner (USA), Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Patrick Reed (USA), Richard Sterne (Rsa)
73 Lucas Glover (USA), Paul Waring, Jorge Campillo (Spa), Zheng kai Bai (Chn), Zander Lombard (Rsa), Keegan Bradley (USA), Ian Poulter, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa)
74 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Tommy Fleetwood, Mikumu Horikawa (Jpn), Adam Hadwin (Can), Wen-chong Liang (Chn), Charles Howell III (USA)
75 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Justin Harding (Rsa), Scott Hend (Aus), Tae Hee Lee (Kor), Paul Casey, Romain Langasque (Fra)
76 Yi-Keun Chang (Kor)
77 Daniel Nisbet (Aus)
80 Ashun Wu (Chn)