Patrick Reed had a Ryder Cup to forget and then spent three weeks at home in Texas preparing to finish the year strongly.
He was at his best in the opening round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Even in blustery conditions, Reed putted for birdie on every hole at Sheshan International and closed out his bogey-free round with a 25-foot birdie putt for an 8-under-par 64, giving him a two-shot lead over Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele.
Reed said: “It felt really good, because if you can go out and shoot rounds like that in these kind of conditions, you know you’re going to have confidence when the wind dies down and there are perfect conditions out there.”
Schauffele also managed a bogey-free round in wind strong enough to be a two-club difference at times. He saved par on his final hole (the ninth) from the right rough with an approach that narrowly cleared the water into a patch of fairway short of the green, a pitch-and-run to 10 feet and another solid putt.
Matt Fitzpatrick had five straight birdies to overcome a rough start and post a 67.
Brooks Koepka, in his debut as world No 1, didn’t deliver much excitement. He had 16 pars, one bogey and one birdie in a 72. He was stunned when his second shot in the par-5 18th spun off the front of the green and into the water, forcing him to scramble for par at the turn instead of an easy birdie or better.
“I felt like I played good enough to shoot four or five under par,” Koepka said. “It was those momentum-building shots.”
Reed was last seen winning a meaningless singles match at Le Golf National with Europe well on the way to victory. The last he was heard from was a telephone interview with The New York Times an hour later,blaming Jordan Spieth for them not playing together and US captain Jim Furyk for leaving Reed on the bench twice during the week.
Reed, the Masters champion, headed home to Houston and, after a few days of rest, went right back to work.
“From that point, my coach and I have been out there fine-tuning everything,” Reed said. “Just trying to set goals to finish the year off right.”
Defending champion Justin Rose, who last year rallied from eight shots behind to win after Johnson closed with a 77, hit a few wild drives of his own but atoned for those with plenty of birdies in his round of 69.
The feature group was anything but that – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari combined to shoot six over par. Molinari, the Open champion and Ryder Cup star as the first European to win all five of his matches, week, made three bogeys around the turn and had no birdies on the back nine.
McIlroy also was wild at times off the tee, though it really only cost him on the short 16th hole. He punched out the trees by inverting his wedge to play a left-handed shot, but then flubbed his flop shot into a bunker, blasted that over the green and made double bogey. He ended up with a 72.