SHANGHAI • South African golfer Branden Grace shot a sparkling nine-under 63 to take a one-shot lead in the opening round of the WGC-HSBC Champions yesterday, while Rory McIlroy overcame a bout of food poisoning to finish the day five strokes back.
The world No. 3 had been bedridden for two days and missed out on practice rounds at the Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai. And, while he did not look back to full health, he still carded a 68 to sit in a tie for 16th.
It was a score matched by world No. 2 Jordan Spieth, defending champion Bubba Watson and South African Major winners Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen in an opening round delayed 30 minutes because of heavy fog.
When the fog lifted, it was Grace who saw the hole clearest.
The 27-year-old from Pretoria rolled in a short birdie putt on his last hole, the ninth, to sign for a 63 and break out of a four-way tie at the top of the leader board.
He took advantage of the soft conditions following heavy rain on Wednesday evening to fire some pinpoint irons in his bogey-free round at the US$8.5 million (S$11.9 million) event, which Watson won with an 11-under total last year.
American Kevin Kisner, Australian Steven Bowditch and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen all fired 64s to sit one back of the world No. 22.
McIlroy said the illness had caused him to lose 4.5kg in weight but he still managed to rattle in six birdies. A double bogey at the tough par-four 15th was the only blemish on his card.
"I've lost 10 pounds since being here. I can't remember the last time I was this light (68kg)," the Northern Irishman said after his round.
"Looking forward to a good dinner tonight - hopefully, it will stay inside my body.
"It's (68) probably a little better than I was expecting. But one of the hardest things was whenever I got on to the (practice) range, I was stiff, really, really stiff.
"So I had to loosen up quite well. I still feel a little stiff actually."
Spieth was pleased to shake off some rust, having not played competitive golf since the Presidents Cup a month ago.
"I hit some shots that looked like we were just continuing the end of the season and I hit some that looked like I took some time off," he said. "It was a bit of both."
McIlroy, who missed a large part of the season after tearing ankle ligaments, holds a slim lead in the European Tour's Race to Dubai standings with just three events to go.
But second-placed Danny Willett of England got off to a perfect start in his quest to chase down McIlroy by shooting one of the rounds of the day, a 65 despite a bogey at his final hole, the ninth.
"I'm a bit disappointed with the finish," said Willett. "But really pleased overall. Went out there, knuckled down and hit a lot of good shots. If you can be within touching distance going into the final event, Dubai could be pretty interesting."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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