Recap of the day
The rough was longer than past years and the greens were firm but lack of any wind meant Sheshan International GC was rather there for the taking on day one. Local Chinese star HaoTong Li cashed in better than anyone else, firing 8-under 64 to edge in front of another European Tour regular, Victor Perez. Defender Xander Schauffele led a four-man group at -6 while Rory McIlroy got hot on his second nine to land at -5. In all, 47 players in the 78-man field broke par although there were some notable names who struggled with Hideki Matsuyama and Paul Casey both sleepwalking to 3-over 75s.
Notables: -3 Tony Finau, Justin Rose, -2 Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, -1 Phil Mickelson, Evs Patrick Reed, Shane Lowry, +2 Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, +3 Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama.
Revised outright betting:
7/2 McIlroy, 11/2 Schauffele, 9/1 Scott, Li, 14/1 Fitzpatrick, Im, 22/1 Rose, 28/1 Conners, Finau, Perez.
Friday weather forecast
Another dry, pleasant day with temperatures creeping towards the 80s. Winds are light and play will be virtually finished by the time they pick up a little in the mid-to-late afternoon.
Leaders after at 18 holes
HaoTong Li (64) – What a great place to secure your first ever 18-hole lead. The Chinese youngster has T7 and T11 at the course but today's lap was his lowest by two. Ranked third for Putts Per GIR (1.417)
Victor Perez (65) – The Alfred Dunhill Links winner could have been forgiven some nerves in his first start at a WGC event. Instead he rode a hot putter, signing for two eagles in a 65. Played the par 5s in -6.
Xander Schauffele (66) – Beware the sick golfer. Flu had stopped him taking part in the pro-am or having a practice round but last year's winner smashed nine birdies against three bogeys to match the 66 he shot on the way to victory 12 months ago. Took just 24 putts.
Fate of the favorites
Rory McIlroy (67) – A slow start but came home in 5-under to sit just three back. Rory finding just six fairways is a concern but if he can tidy that up he can make the most of this good opener and gain a first WGC win for four years.
Hideki Matsuyama (75) – Third in the CJ CUP, runner-up at the ZOZO and... oh dear. Matsuyama's hopes of completing the sequence and getting a '1' look a long way off now (T70 and 11 back). Swallowed three bogeys and a double and made just two birdies.
Justin Rose (69) – Flashed a pair of eagles on the par 5s at 2 and 18 although made three bogeys as well. Led the field in Driving Accuracy (12 of 14 fairways) and T6 for greens (14) so just needs to sharpen up the short game.
Xander Schauffele – See above.
HaoTong Li (64): "From the start, in the first few holes, I already made some good putts which makes me feel more confident, and birdied 17 and 18, two in a row and know I gained momentum throughout today to have a good finish. I don't feel good with my new irons, and I actually had to change back to my old clubs this week to feel more comfortable in my own swing and putting."
Victor Perez (65): "I did well, coming in here with a lot of confidence and the course suits me fairly well. It's long. The greens are going to be firm this week. I just feel like if you're in the fairway, you can be aggressive. The pins are gettable today and the greens are absolutely perfect."
Matthew Fitzpatrick (66): "Very pleased considering last week and how I played in practice. A 66, I'm surprised it's not leading. It's one of those. I know there's no wind today to speak of, but you know, just shows how good the guys are. The rough's thick, and the greens are firm and fast and slopey, and you know, it's not easy. I'm delighted with 66. Struggled last week, my game didn't feel comfortable at all. Coming in this week, put in a lot of work on the range."
Xander Schauffele (66): "Yeah, it was nice, a few 35-footers, 40-footers. I felt like I was going to make anything. The greens are perfect. My whole goal was to keep it out of the rough and hit it anywhere on the green and kind of get into my round. I didn't have any practice. I didn't play the Pro-Am. I didn't play any practice round. I was just trying to ease my way into the round and luckily I did. Maybe I should just keep my flu going."
Sungjae Im (66): "My tee shot was pretty good. Iron shot, the distance control was really well. The trajectory was pretty good, too. Also, the putting was pretty well. The grass (seashore paspalum fairways), I like it. My iron shots, pretty well to play with this grass."
Adam Scott (66): "Very happy with how I played this golf course today. You had to be in the fairway, and I hit a lot of them. The rough is so thick this year that you just can't really control anything out of it. The priority is the fairway, and I'm driving it well with my new TS4."
Rory McIlroy (67): "Once I made the turn, things started to go for me a little bit more. Yeah, after nine, I didn't expect to shoot 5-under par, but it's nice to shoot that score and get right into the tournament."
Danny Willett (68): "Usually you get a lot of flyers around here which makes it really tricky to hold the greens and stuff. This week, you're looking at it, if you get a good lie, you're still getting a fly but if you get a bad lie, you're looking at hacking it. It's definitely the longest I've ever seen it, especially kind of off the tee and fairway."
Road to victory at Sheshan International GC
2018 Xander Schauffele – R1: 2nd, R2: 5th, R3: 2nd
2017 Justin Rose – R1: 6th, R2: 3rd, R3: 4th
2016 Hideki Matsuyama – R1: 3rd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Russell Knox – R1: 9th, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2014 Bubba Watson – R1: 19th, R2: 3rd, R3: 3rd
Notes: Stretching back to 2005 when this was a European Tour event, only two winners have been outside the top ten after 18 holes. In other words, it's tricky to play catch-up. No-one has come from more than five back after day one and claimed the trophy.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Sheshan – where did they finish?
Notes: Francesco Molinari in 2010 is the only 18-hole leader to convert although, helped by the limited field, eight of the last ten R1 leaders have finished in the top seven.
Focus on – Rory's fast start
Rory shot a 2-over 72 in Japan last week and finished third. At Wentworth last month he opened with 76 but recovered to take T11. Both decent finishes were via the backdoor and today he looked set to put himself behind the 8-ball again after a sluggish opening nine. However, five birdies coming home and he handed in a 67. Looking at his three wins this season, McIlroy opened with 66 at the TOUR Championship and 67 at both THE PLAYERS and the Canadian Open. In other words, today's 67 makes him extremely dangerous, something he acknowledged at close of play: "The last few tournaments I've played, I've had a bad opening round and then been trying to play catch up. At least now, I'm right in the thick of things from the start, which is a better place to be."
Focus on – Oosthuizen's Hole in One
Ever had a hole-in-one? Or even more than one? You'd remember surely although Louis Oosthuizen was rather fuzzy on the subject after draining his tee shot on the par-3 6th with 6-iron from 197 yards today. Asked how many aces he now had, the South African answered: "No idea. I think the last one was in 2016 at The Open I think. I don't know, I think as a professional, probably fifth one I think." Officially, it was his third (his other was at the 2016 Masters). Regardless, it helped him to a 68 and T10 on the leaderboard although the former Open champ still admits his game isn't sharp. "Lot of rust sort of in the swing. I took a long time off. Last week, last two rounds hit it horrible. I just worked a bit on Tuesday and worked a few things out yesterday, and still need to keep plotting along to get it perfect."
Focus on – The international leaderboard
Nine different countries are represented in the top nine after the first round – China, France, South Korea, Australia, United States of America, England, Canada, Austria and Northern Ireland. Well, this is a WGC event.