SHANGHAI // Keegan Bradley forged a two stroke lead at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai today as he seeks to cap a remarkable first professional season by winning the coveted title.
The rookie American carded two eagles and three birdies as he charged to a first round seven-under-par 65 after teeing off in a formidable group comprising of England's world No 2 Lee Westwood and Adam Scott, the Australian.
The 21- ear old Bradley — winner of the Byron Nelson Championship and the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club — said he was in awe of his group but managed to maintain his nerves to carve a gap between compatriot Bo Van Pelt and Sweden's Alexander Noren and Fredrik Jacobson, all tied second on five-under par.
"To think a year after picking up my PGA card that I would be in a group with Lee and Adam is a dream come true. I am amazed at who I'm around," said Bradley, who also claimed victory in the Bermudan PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
"I'm just very proud of the way I played. To play like that in the first round in a tournament like that on this course is very rewarding and means a lot to me," he added.
Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and Korean veteran KJ Choi kept regional flags flying in Asia's biggest golf tournament and are tied fifth with David Toms, the American, and Englishman Justin Rose on four-under.
Exactly a year ago Westwood took away the No 1 ranking from long-term summit resident Tiger Woods.
He then narrowly lost the 2010 HSBC Champions by one shot to Italy's Francesco Molinari in an enthralling play-off.
And 12 months on, the 38-year-old lies tied ninth on three-under-par after three bogeys lessened the effect of an eagle and four birdies.
Molinari, the defending champion, is seeking a rerun of his thrilling title win and sunk seven birdies to lie tied 18th.
Bradley's fellow 2011 major winners, Charl Schwartzel, the South African, and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, are also lying joint 18th after first rounds of 70.
The 22-year-old US Open champion bogeyed the 10th hole and carded two birdies in the light drizzle at the Sheshan International Golf Club.
"Seventy isn't a disastrous start and something I can definitely build on" McIlroy said
Luke Donald, the World No 1, pulled out of the US$7 million tournament last week to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
Many believed Englishman Donald, who tops the Race to Dubai money list and is the PGA Tour money winner, had sewed up the PGA's Tour Player of the Year gong with his sizzling end of season win in the Children's Miracle Network Classic in Disney World.
But PGA Tour officials, rebuffing claims of US bias, decided last week to wait until after the HSBC Champions, which counts as an official win if one of their players claims victory, before posting out Player of the Year ballots.