April 20, 2017: American star Bubba Watson shot an eagle and five birdies in a six-under-par 66 to hold the clubhouse lead after a weather-interrupted first day of the European Tour’s US$2.8 million Shenzhen International in China.

 

Thai legend Thongchai Jaidee, South African duo Haydn Porteous and Dean Burmester, France’s Gregory Bourdy and Germany’s Max Kieffer all shot 67 at Genzon Golf Club to lie a shot behind the two-time Masters Tournament winner, while South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli shot 68.

Play was suspended for almost two hours mid-afternoon due to the threat of lightning. Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (16 holes), Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen (16 holes) and Spain’s Eduardo De La Riva (12 holes) were at four-under and among over 50 players unable to complete their rounds by the close of play.

 

William Liu Yanwei, 19, and Liang Dingfeng, 32, were the leading Chinese after shooting 69, a score matched by World Number 33 Tommy Fleetwood, Watson’s playing partner. China Number One Li Haotong, the third member of the all-star group, carded a 75 a day after being admitted to hospital with stomach pains.

Watson, the field’s top-ranked player, shot closing rounds of 65 and 66 to tie for 29th and eighth at Genzon for the past two years, so fulfilled his aim to start as strongly as he usually finishes as he seeks his second European Tour win in China.

 

“Now I just hope I don’t finish like I usually start,” joked Watson, who won the 2014 WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

 

“I hit a lot of good shots and a lot of greens, so I’m pretty happy with six-under. All in all, a great day and a good start, especially as we thought it was going to rain early on.

“I’ve been working so hard with my putting on getting more speed and getting the ball to the hole, to at least give it a chance to go in. That’s what I did better this first round compared to the last couple of years here.”

 

Teeing off on hole 10, Watson bogeyed 12 but then picked up six shots in the next eight holes, following up birdies at 13, 14, 16 and one with a spectacular eagle on the 547-yard par-five second.

 

After a solid tee-shot, the big-hitting left-hander powered a fade – “it sliced about 30 yards” –

around the trees and across the water, before nailing the putt to move to five-under and take over as leader from Fleetwood, who bogeyed the same hole.

 

“I hit hybrid off the tee as it was downwind and I wanted to stop short of the water. I think it was 253 to the hole, so I hit a big ol’ sliced three-wood around the trees to about 10 feet and then got it to go in,” said Watson, whose highlights also included a par save at seven and a birdie at the par-five ninth to take the outright lead.

“I’d say the up and down at seven was one of my best holes, even though it was only for par. I hit over the green and then hit a great chip that hit the flag and almost went in.”

 

Watson enjoyed a lot of conversation and laughs while playing with Li in the tournament’s opening rounds for the third straight year, but commiserated with his playing partner, who birdied 13 and 15 before fading on his second nine, racking up double bogeys on six and nine.

“It’s fun playing with him. What a good kid – and he is a kid; he’s only 21. It was good to see him again and hang out. He was unfortunate to be sick yesterday and he was still sick today so it was great that he came out and played,” Watson said.

 

“Tommy, as you know, he likes to be quiet, but we tried to egg him on and get him to talk to us!”

Watson, whose nine PGA TOUR wins include memorable Masters wins in 2012 and 2104, has lost over 15 pounds after embarking on a healthy diet this year, but the father of two said the biggest change to his game followed putting advice from compatriot Brandt Snedeker.

“My putting was awful at the start of the year so at the [WGC] Match Play, Brandt Snedeker told me a few things I was doing wrong and that he would like to see me do better. The new stroke has helped a lot with consistency in my roll,” Watson said.

 

“When I got to Shenzhen, I already knew what the greens were going to be like, so it was taking that same stroke since Match Play and getting better with it. Over time, it’ll get better and better. I’m doing the right things now.”

 

Fleetwood, the field’s second-ranked player behind Watson, briefly led after carding four birdies in his first five holes and is among the pre-tournament favourites after finishing third in 2015 and runner-up at the 2014 Volvo China Open at Genzon.

“Playing with Bubba who shot six-under makes my score feel worse than it is, but it’s still a good start,” said Fleetwood, who won January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and finished second to Dustin Johnson at last month’s WGC-Mexico Championship.

 

“I hit it pretty good most of the day and had a lot of chances. When you start like I did, you think you’re going to hole everything and then when you don’t, it gets frustrating. But breaking 70 around here is a good round.”

prev Return list next