Grace takes opening honours at WGC-HSBC Champions

Branden Grace 26Shanghai: South Africa’s Branden Grace basked in the opening day’s glory after he fired a flawless nine-under-par 63 to take the first round lead at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Thursday.

The South African enjoyed a one-shot advantage over American Kevin Kisner, Australia’s Steven Bowditch and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen with 15 players within four shots of the lead at the Sheshan International Golf Club.

Australia’s Scott Hend, second on the Asian Tour Order of Merit, carded a 68 to share 16th place with 14 other players that include Canada’s Richard T. Lee as well as tournament heavyweights Americans Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and world number three Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

"It was a fun day. From the start I started hitting the ball nicely and missed a couple of short putts which was costly. It could have been lower but I made a couple of nice ones that cancelled the others out.

"The ball-striking was probably the best it's been in a long time, so that was the main key today. There was barely a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing,” said Grace.

Starting from the back-nine 10th, Grace turned in 31 after birdies on 11, 12, 14, 16 and 18.

He continued to move up the leaderboard with further gains at the second, fifth and seventh holes to take the outright lead.

Hend meanwhile closed with two birdies in his last three holes to stay five shots back of Grace.

The Australian, who holds seven titles on the region’s premier Tour, was pleased with his day’s efforts despite not playing his best.

“It was nice to finish off with a birdie at the last as I was feeling a little off today. I got around what I could do and it was good,” said Hend.

McIlroy, who was unable to practise before the tournament because of food poisoning, began his bid for a second World Golf Championship title of 2015 with a 68, which included a double bogey six on 15.

“I've lost ten pounds since being here. I can't remember the last time I was this light. But hopefully I’ll have a couple of good meals over the next couple days and rehydrate and I'll be feeling a lot better.

“I felt like I played okay. Tee-to-green was pretty good. I was disappointed I missed three good chances coming in there on the front nine and didn't quite capitalise on those. So it was a score that I thought could have been a lot better, but considering the position I was in this time yesterday, it's not a bad start,” said McIlroy.