A host of European Tour stars, led by Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, are within touching distance of leader Brooks Koepka at the end of round one at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
U.S. Open Champion Koepka – who made his professional breakthrough on the European Challenge Tour – carded an eagle and seven birdies on his way to a brilliant eight under par round of 64, to sit a shot ahead of Aphibarnrat and current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Gavin Green of Malaysia.
South Africa’s Haydn Porteous and Patrick Reed of America are at six under par, a shot clear of fellow European Tour players Paul Dunne of Ireland, Englishman Justin Rose and local favourite Ashun Wu. American pair Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar round out the group of five players on five under par.
Ten players sit one shot further back, including Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, Englishmen Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Southgate and Henrik Stenson of Sweden.
Koepka won three Challenge Tour events in 2013 before going on to win twice on the European Tour, including his maiden Major title at Erin Hills in June. In a neat twist of fate his brother Chase is currently leading the Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge.
Koepka parred his first four holes at Sheshan International Golf Club but then made three birdies in his next four and an eagle on the 18th meant he turned in 31.
Another birdie on the first followed but he three-putted the third from inside six feet before picking the shot straight back up after an excellent tee-shot. A nice approach to the seventh brought another birdie and despite finding water off the tee on the eighth, Kopeka hit a marvellous third just over the back of the green with a three wood and holed a birdie putt to take the solo lead.
Also teeing off from the tenth, Aphibarnrat held the lead earlier in the day after reeling off seven birdies in a row, rounded off by a monster putt on the fourth. A three-putt from just off the green at the next then led to a third bogey of the day as he went on to sign for a 65.
Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who tasted victory in China at the Shenzen International earlier this year, made the 32nd hole-in-one of the 2017 season on the fourth. The Austrian sank a seven iron from 167 yards for the 1002nd ace in European Tour history.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat: “Yes, it’s the way to open the World Golf Championships – seven under, really pleased with the way I’m playing.
“It’s all about putting. I didn’t hit the ball well. I didn’t bring my A game out today but my putting is fantastic. I holed almost every putt on the greens. My iron play is really sharp at the moment, but today I’m saying I hit a lot of greens but not good as I did the last couple weeks.
“I just tried to enjoy my game and tried to enjoy this big event in Asia, especially with a lot of top players in the field.”
Brooks Koepka: “I thought we played really well. Putted very well. One little hiccup and I three-putted from about, I don’t know, three and a half or four feet.
“I felt like I started really well. Drove it really well. Any time you’re making putts and you’re keeping it in the fairway, you’re going to shoot good.
“I had some fun in the water (on the eighth). It was an interesting hole to say the least. It was an awful three iron. I hit it in the water and to be lucky enough to actually get it out, was very fortunate, and then to hit three wood in there to 15 feet and then make the putt, we were laughing. It was almost kind of like destiny to make that putt for how lucky we were that whole hole.”
Haydn Porteous: “I wasn’t in until a week, two weeks ago, and when I came out here, the plan was to expect nothing and take everything. Just go out there and free it up, and a few putts went in. I found a really good golf swing for the week, and hopefully I can carry on with the same sort of form.
“I made a few really good putts out there, especially the knee wobblers from five feet and in, which was pretty solid. Kept the momentum going with some good par saves and made the birdies that I needed to make, especially on the par fives.”
Justin Rose: “It’s a good start. I played really, really well today. I drove the ball exceptionally well, which is obviously what I need to do around here. I gave myself a ton of chances. I had loads of putts that just slipped by the edge.
“Five under is good, but it’s one of those days. I left a few out there, but that’s encouraging. First round back after a month or so, so to get under par and a solid start, very, very happy.”
Round one scores
64 B Koepka (USA) ,
65 G Green (Mas) , K Aphibarnrat (Tha) ,
66 H Porteous (RSA) , P Reed (USA) ,
67 P Dunne (Irl) , J Rose (Eng) , M Kuchar (USA) , T Finau (USA) , W Ashun (Chn) ,
68 D Johnson (USA) , M Southgate (Eng) , R Cabrera Bello (Esp) , P Cantlay (USA) , H Stenson (Swe) , B Harman (USA) , T Hatton (Eng) , M Fitzpatrick (Eng) , M Griffin (Aus) , D Berger (USA) ,
69 C Kim (USA) , P Khongwatmai (Tha) , J Smith (Eng) , C Reavie (USA) , A Hadwin (Can) , H Ryu (Kor) , D Lipsky (USA) , J Day (Aus) ,
70 H Swafford (USA) , J Vegas (Ven) ,
71 K Stanley (USA) , M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) , Z Xinjun (Chn) , D Kataoka (Jpn) , B Wiesberger (Aut) , B Haas (USA) , A Levy (Fra) , S Kim (Kor) , M Leishman (Aus) , X Schauffele (USA) , T Fleetwood (Eng) , P Mickelson (USA) , S Hend (Aus) , R Fox (Nzl) , P Casey (Eng) , L Glover (USA) , D Zecheng (Chn) ,
72 C Howell Iii (USA) , P Uihlein (USA) , S Chawrasia (Ind) , L Yanwei (Chn) , P Perez (USA) , S Imahira (Jpn) , J Rahm (Esp) , L Haotong (Chn) , L Wenchong (Chn) , A Noren (Swe) , A Scott (Aus) , H Tanihara (Jpn) , T Olesen (Den) ,
73 F Zanotti (Par) , R Ramsay (Sco) , C Schwartzel (RSA) , P Saksansin (Tha) , R Sterne (RSA) , M Hendry (Nzl) ,
74 A Hall (Aus) , H Matsuyama (Jpn) , A Dodt (Aus) , B Grace (RSA) , C Yi (Chn) ,
75 R Henley (USA) , T Pieters (Bel) , G Storm (Eng) ,
77 W Bryan (USA) , F Molinari (Ita) , R Fisher (Eng) ,
78 B Stone (RSA) ,