Graeme McDowell likes a tough golf course, and Sheshan International was perfect for him today.
He opened with seven birdies in 12 holes and then hung on for a 5-under 67 that gave him a two-shot lead after one round of the HSBC Champions.
In the 10th year of this tournament, the golf course was tougher than ever with ankle-deep rough and fairways that are not nearly as wide.
That didn't seem to bother McDowell, who only once had to contend with the thick grass.
"A big key to this golf course is driving the ball well. I drove it very well today," McDowell said.
"And the greens are in fantastic shape, and I actually putted very well.
"Dropped a couple coming in, but all in all, very pleased with 5-under par on what I thought was a reasonably tricky day."
Shane Lowry is the other Irishman competing in China, but the Offaly native began disappointingly, hitting six over.
Rickie Fowler got off to a fast start before he settled down for a 69, joining a group that included U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, Brandt Snedeker, Tim Clark, Chris Kirk and Tommy Fleetwood.
The wind was strong and out of the opposite direction, which added to the demanding conditions.
McDowell has played twice since the Ryder Cup, including a tie for 16th a week ago at the BMW Masters. Even so, the strong start surprised him.
He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine, capping it off by driving the reachable 16th green and two-putting from 15 feet, and then holing a 45-foot birdie across the green on the par-3 17th. Two quick birdies after making the turn and he was at 7 under and on verge of running away from the field.
But he made his first bogey on the par-3 fourth, which played into the wind. And on the one hole he tried to play it safe off the tee, it cost him.
McDowell opted for 3-wood on the 603-yard eighth hole to keep it short of the bunker. He wound up in grass so thick he could only hit 8-iron for his second shot, and then he still had 215 yards left for his third. He pulled a 4-iron into the rough and failed to get up-and-down.
"I didn't need a leaderboard to let me know that 7 under through 12 is fairly strong," McDowell said.
"There were some tricky holes on the front nine. I made a couple of putts I should have in the first 12 holes, and then I made a couple of bogeys that I shouldn't have coming in.
"All in all, I think 5 under was a fair representation of my round."