Branden Grace of South Africa sank a five-foot birdie putt on his last hole, No. 9, to take a one-stroke lead over Kevin Kisner, Steven Bowditch of Australia and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark after the first round of the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
Grace, who led the International team with a 5-0 record in the Presidents Cup last month, posted a bogey-free 9-under-par 63, making birdies on three of the last five holes on the first day of the tournament sanctioned by both major tours.
“Barely had a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing,” said Grace, who won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters on the European Tour and the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour earlier this year, but has never won on the PGA Tour. “There’s some low scores out there. The guys are playing some great golf, and when you play on greens like this, it helps. You just have to get the ball on the right line, and it goes in.
” … I think Presidents Cup was a big boost for me. Coming into these events (in the Final Series of the Race to Dubai), I know one good week can change everything. Give it a last, final push. There’s a lot still to play for.”
Kisner, who lost three times in playoffs last season on the PGA Tour after winning twice on the Web.com Tour in recent years, collected four birdies on each nine in his bogey-free 64, which was equaled by Bowditch with five birdies on the back nine, and Olesen, who had six birdies on the first eight holes and two more on Nos. 17 and 18.
Dustin Johnson had six birdies and an eagle on the second hole en route to a 65 that put him in a tie for fifth with Patrick Reed, who birdied five of the first seven holes on the back nine, and Danny Willett of England, who put up seven birdies before making his only bogey on the last hole.
World No. 2 Jordan Spieth registered six birdies while shooting 68 and was in a tie for 16th that included No. 4 and defending champion Bubba Watson and No. 5 Rickie Fowler, who both turned in flawless scorecards, plus No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who overcame a double bogey 6 on the 15th hole.