McDowell sets the early pace

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell carded a five-under par first round 67 to claim a two-stroke lead of the WGC-HSBC Champions on Thursday.

After starting his round on the back nine, the Ulsterman reached seven-under par after just 12 holes, but two bogeys in the latter stages of his first round at Sheshan pegged him back somewhat.

“A big key to this golf course is driving the ball well,” McDowell told reporters afterwards.

“I drove it very well today. I think I missed only one fairway, which is very important. Set up a few opportunities. The greens are in fantastic shape and I putted very well.

“So seven-under par through 12 holes was a beautiful start. Dropped a couple coming in, but all in all, very pleased with five-under par on what I thought was a reasonably tricky day.”

The former US Open champion currently lies in 16th place on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but needs a strong finish this week in order to qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in two weeks time.

“This is as tough off the tee as I think I’ve ever seen this golf course,” McDowell added.

“If we get three more days of this, I don’t think sort of 10-under, 12-under par is going to get beat out there.”

Six players are two strokes behind McDowell, including US Open champion Martin Kaymer, Tim Clark, Tommy Fleetwood, Brandt Snedeker, Ricky Fowler and Chris Kirk.

“I think it’s a very good score,” Kaymer told reporters after his round.

“So even when I was at one point level par today, but just kept telling myself you will have plenty of birdie chances, so you just need to be patient.”

Eleven players are another shot behind those in second place on two-under after rounds of 70.

They include world number two Adam Scott, former champion Ian Poulter, JB Holmes and former Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.