Scotland’s Russell Knox was delighted to make a superb start to the defence of his title in the first round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Knox was 20 under par in winning his first European Tour title last year and carried on where he left off on Thursday as he tries to become only the second player after Tiger Woods to retain a World Golf Championships title.
The 31-year-old carded a bogey-free 66 at Sheshan International to finish six under par, two shots behind Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg.
American Ryder Cup star Rickie Fowler was a shot behind Karlberg after a flawless 65 and the group of Knox, Fowler and Paul Casey were a combined 18 under par after Casey carded a 67 which featured an eagle, four birdies and the group’s only bogey of the day on the 11th.
After starting on the back nine, Knox followed four straight pars with the same number of birdies in succession from the 14th, before picking up further shots on the third and seventh.
“I’m always thrilled with no bogeys and my first round is never my strongest round,” said the world No 20, who was born in Inverness but is based in Florida. “So to get off to a flyer and shoot six under, I’m delighted.
“I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I didn’t feel overly tight out there, so I was proud of myself to kind of relax and enjoy it. It can only be your first defence once, so I’ll make sure I’m going to have a good time the next three days.
“The conditions were just like this on Sunday last year, very dark and dreich, as the Scots would say, with a little mist and rain. The course played long today, which is fine for me.
“If it’s lift, clean and place (preferred lies), as long as I’m on the fairway I can compete around here.”
World No 3 Rory McIlroy ended the day seven shots off the pace as he chases the victory he feels is necessary to have a chance of winning the Race to Dubai for the third year running.
McIlroy is more than a million points behind Masters champion Danny Willett, who has a lead of more than 400,000 points over Henrik Stenson, who carded 69.
Willett battled back from a nightmare start to post 74; three bogeys and a double in the space of four holes before repairing the damage on the back nine.