While Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott picked up first-round, 7-under-par 65s, it was the play of Phil Mickelson that captured the most attention on Thursday at the HSBC Champions in China, as the southpaw was a fairway machine en route to a 6-under 66.
Here are Five Things to take away from the first round of the WGC event:
1. Great start for Lefty
Earlier in the week at the HSBC Champions, Phil Mickelson talked about what he learned from Keegan Bradley at the Ryder Cup. The combination of length and accuracy could be a huge positive, Lefty realizes.
Mickelson put that theory into practice Thursday in the first round, hitting 92.3 percent of the fairways and 94.4 percent of the greens.
Mickelson, who missed only the third fairway off the tee and the 14th green in regulation, shot 6-under 66 on Mission Hills Golf Club’s Olazabal Course, tying his best round in the HSBC, which he has won twice.
Mickelson shot a 66 in the second round in 2007 en route to his first HSBC Champions title and then shot 66 in the opening round of 2008 and then again in the second round in 2009, when he won this event for the second time.
“I played from the fairway the entire round,” Mickelson said. “My irons were good and I made some good putts, so I had a very stress-free, pretty easy 66 today, and I’m excited about these next three rounds.”
With solid opening rounds — Mickelson has never been out of the 60s on the first round in this event — the key to his success has been the second round. In 2007 and 2009, the left-hander shot 66s both times and won. In 2008 after his best opening round of 66, Mickelson shot a 70 and would finish eighth.
“I think the reason I was so calm today was I drove the ball extremely well and hit every fairway; I missed one fairway by two yards,” Mickelson said. “Because I drove the ball very well, it allowed me to be aggressive and try to make birdies.”
2. Tale of two rounds
South African Hennie Otto was climbing up the leaderboard early in the first round. Making the turn with three birdies, an eagle and a bogey, the 2011 South Africa Open winner was on top of the leaderboard. Then it all went wrong.
Otto’s back started to seize up on the 12th tee, and during the next seven holes he made three bogeys, a triple-bogey 8 on No. 15 and then a double-bogey 6 on the 18th hole to fall from 4 under to 4over.
“I got a bad back injury for the last nine months,” Otto said after his round. “That’s how it’s been going all year — play well and suddenly I get these spasms and I can’t hit a golf ball.”
Hennie has done magnetic resonance imaging scans at home in South Africa and in London to seek the cause of his problems.
“The previous tournament, I had no pain and I played pretty good,” Otto said of the recent Portugal Masters, in which he finished 37th. “I started off I thought it was good (today) and then it started coming from the 12th hole, I started getting spasms and I’m restricted from taking a back swing, that’s what happens.”
Otto will start the second round in 66th place after his first-round 76.
3. Louis gets the lead out
Co-leader Louis Oosthuizen came to Mission Hills still stinging from his poor performance on the greens at last week’s BMW Masters in Shanghai. Even though he finished sixth, the South African struggled to get the speed correct on the new greens at Lake Malaren.
So his plan was to potentially change the weight of his putter by applying lead tape to give the ball a little more pop off the putter on Chinese greens that generally are slower than those in the United States.
But the new paspalum on the Olazabal Course instantly was to Oosthuizen’s liking, so he made no adjustments to his putter and averaged 27 putts in shooting a first-round 67.
4. Very manageable
The HSBC Champions, in its eighth year, is making its debut at Mission Hills after seven editions at Sheshan International near Shanghai.
With new paspalum greens installed this spring, the 7,301-yard, par-72 Olazabal Course played true to par, with a scoring average of 72.040.
The five par 5s made the difference for the co-leaders as Oosthuizen and Adam Scott birdied each.
“By having five par 5s, I think the guy that’s going to hit it well off the tee is going to have a good chance at reaching the green in two and taking advantage,” Oosthuizen said.
The 548-yard, par-5 No. 3, which was the easiest hole in relation to par, played to a 4.462 stroke average. The 447-yard, par-4 No. 1 hole played the toughest, at 4.462.
Three players stand out with their struggles in Thursday. England’s Robert Rock (78) made a quadruple bogey-8, on the par-4 first hole. American Kyle Stanley (79) did Rock one better with a 9 on the par-5 15th hole, and Japan’s Tadahiro Takayama (73) made an 8 on the par-4 18th.
Takayama’s miscue was especially deflating. He stood on the 18th tee at 3 under for his round before signing for a 1-over score.