Koepka leads in Shanghai as emotions simmer
US Open champion Brooks Koepka seized the first-round lead with a terrific 64 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai on Thursday as world number 166 Gavin Green upstaged a host of bigger names.
The young Malaysian Green was joined in second, one shot behind pacesetter Koepka, by Kiradech Aphibarnrat after the Thai battled his emotions to put on one of the best rounds of his life.
World number one Dustin Johnson of the United States had a solid day at Sheshan International Golf Club and was lurking menacingly, tied 11th on four-under-par 68.
But 2016 champion Hideki Matsuyama had a nightmare opening to the defence of his crown, carding a forlorn 74 that left him struggling down in 67th.
Koepka, the American whose first major title came at Erin Hills in June, streaked to the top of the Shanghai leaderboard with his eight-under-par 64.
The 27-year-old, who ended up with a brown stain on his top after hitting into the water, said triumphing at the US Open had ramped up his confidence.
“Any time you win, you’re going to have confidence and especially when it’s a major,” he said after carding seven birdies and an eagle.
“I feel really good, game feels good. I just want to close out this calendar year really well and start the year off well.”
Green, 23, was a shock name up in second after going bogey-free.
He has never been higher than 157 in the world rankings and this was his first taste of a prestigious World Golf Championship (WGC).
“Just going to try and enjoy my first WGC. Dad’s on the bag, so we’re just going to enjoy it and sticking to the game plan,” said Green, who only turned professional in 2015.
Kiradech fought back tears on the day of the Thai king’s funeral.
The 28-year-old went on a magical run of seven birdies on the spin for seven-under-par 65.
The Thai, a three-time winner on the European Tour, pulled off the feat just as thousands of black-clad mourners massed across Bangkok’s historic heart to bid farewell to the beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016.
Kiradech was also dressed all in black and, tears in his eyes, said after his superb opening round in Shanghai: “It’s not a good day, we are remembering our king who passed away nearly one year ago.
“It’s very upsetting in our country,” he said, stuttering over his words as emotion took hold.
“Our king will be forever in our hearts, but the show must go on and I need to keep doing my job and hopefully I will take the trophy home for our king.
“This is a very sad day in Thailand.”
The American Patrick Reed and Haydn Porteous of South Africa were tied fourth, with a group of five players another shot back.
Among them was the Englishman Justin Rose, who won Olympic gold at Rio in 2016.
He called the warm, sunny conditions in Shanghai “perfect”.
“It’s a good start, I played really, really well today,” he purred.
“I drove the ball exceptionally well, which is obviously what I need to do around here.
“I gave myself a ton of chances and I had loads of putts that just slipped by the edge.”
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