Birdies or GTFO at WGC-HSBC
By Conor Nagle under WGC

Pictured: sand.

Still air, sky-high temperatures and soft conditions appear to have a knack for producing low, low scoring. Who knew?

The first round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, held this year on Mission Hills’ Olazabal layout (the positively sprawling venue now boasts of 12 “championship” designs and a further 180 holes), yielded two rounds of 65, four of 66 and a further 20 that dipped below the (nominal) par of 72.

Not bad for a shortened field, even if it is one populated almost exclusively by the best and brightest of world golf (no Tiger or Rory, though: they’re the subjects of *sigh* another appearance fee controversy!).

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given both the conditions and comparative freedom afforded competitors this early in proceedings, it fell to two long game virtuosos with shaky putters, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, to the seize the first-round lead.

The latter negotiated the Olazabal Course’s 7,380 yards in a flawless 65 shots, while Scott took a slightly more adventurous route to the same total, setting a lone bogey against six birdies and an eagle at the par-5 ninth.

A quartet of players, comprised of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Peter Hanson and the rapidly improving Shane Lowry, sits in a tie for second place a shot further back.

The 25-year-old Lowry, who captured the 2009 Irish Open while still an amateur, has rocketed to 57th place in the current world ranking following his recent victory at the Portugal Masters and fifth-place finish in Shanghai last week. He plays the final month of the season in hope of securing a lucrative place within the world top-50.

Hanson, on the other hand, competes this week with an altogether loftier goal: to draw within touching distance of, or possibly overhaul, Rory McIlroy at the summit of the Race to Dubai ranking. The Northern Irishman, of course, forgoes this event in preparation for next week’s Singapore Open.

Other notable scores: Dustin Johnson 67; Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer 68; Ian Poulter, Paul Lawrie, Bill Haas 69; Lee Westwood 70; Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell 71; Nick Watney, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker 72.

Conor Nagle