SHANGHAI — Graeme McDowell likes a tough golf course, and Sheshan International was perfect for him Thursday. He opened with seven birdies in 12 holes and then hung on for a 5-under 67 that gave him a two-shot lead after one round of the HSBC Champions.
In the 10th year of this tournament, the golf course was tougher than ever with ankle-deep rough and fairways that are not nearly as wide. That didn’t seem to bother McDowell, who only once had to contend with the thick grass.
“A big key to this golf course is driving the ball well. I drove it very well today,” McDowell said. “And the greens are in fantastic shape, and I actually putted very well. Dropped a couple coming in, but all in all, very pleased with 5-under par on what I thought was a reasonably tricky day.”
Rickie Fowler also got off to a fast start before he settled down for a 69, joining a group that included U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, Brandt Snedeker, Tim Clark, Chris Kirk and Tommy Fleetwood.
The wind was strong and out of the opposite direction, which added to the demanding conditions.
Jordan Spieth began his new PGA Tour season with two straight bogeys and had to save par with a long bunker shot on his third hole. He scratched his way back and wound up in a large group at 70 that featured Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson.
It didn’t take much for players to get going in the wrong direction.
FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel made a pair of double bogeys, only one birdie and shot an 80.
“This is a top event — some of the best players in the world, probably the best field you’re going to get in Asia, and you don’t want it to be a pushover,” Fowler said. “You want a good, solid test. And it’s showing that.”
Only 27 players in the 78-man field broke par, compared with 37 players under par on the first day last year when the winning score was 24-under 264. McDowell said he wouldn’t be surprised to see something about 12 under win, even if the wind relents.