Masterful Reed throws down gauntlet at WGC-HSBC Champions
Go looking for Patrick Reed on the practice range and you will invariably find him tucked away in the far corner, working in splendid isolation on his rhythmic, simple swing.
It seems only fitting, therefore, that the Masters champion separated himself from the field yesterday with an exceptional eight-under-par round of 64 on the first day of the wind-buffeted WGC-HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan International. Trailing Reed by two strokes are two fellow Americans, Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau, with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick one stroke further back.
In every sense this was a masterclass from Reed in how to play golf in the wind, a bogey-free round that could have been even better had the odd putt dropped below ground. This is his first outing since the Ryder Cup three weeks ago and he has left the disappointment of defeat at the hands of Europe far behind.
“When the wind starts blowing and gusting like it was today it’s really important to hit the ball well, not just off the tee but the iron shots as well,” a quietly delighted Reed said. “It’s challenging mentally because you are going to get some bad breaks.
“For my first event back I feel I had full control. My ball striking was the best part of my game and I was hitting it where I wanted to and controlling the trajectory of the ball. It was really pleasing.”
Reed missed only two fairways, both of them on par fives, and missed just one green in regulation, the par-three 12th, his third, from where he putted in for a birdie. It was that sort of a day, a day when everything went right.
If Reed understands anything, however, it is the fickle nature of the game of golf. He knows that eight birdies today is no guarantee of eight tomorrow and for that reason he is not getting ahead of himself. “I need to take it day by day and stick to my game plan,” he said. “If I can shoot another couple of rounds like this it will really help me out.” Of that there is little doubt.
Among those determined to chase him down is Justin Rose, who is bidding to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007 to win the same WGC title two years in succession.
The world No.3 knows the importance of patience on this course, having made up eight shots on the final day to claim an unlikely victory last year, and was not too disappointed with a round of 69 that was slightly blighted by dropped shots at the 9th and 18th, where he took an aggressive line off the tee and dumped the ball in water to the right of the fairway.
“You can’t win it on the first day, you can only lose it,” Rose said. “It was a good start but I feel I left a few shots out there. I gave myself a lot of birdie looks and feel I could have shot a 65, 64 possibly. But overall a 69 is a good start, something to build on for the rest of the week.”
What Francesco Molinari, the leader in the Race to Dubai, would have given for a round of 69. The Open champion looked fatigued in the company of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and was uncharacteristically wayward on a day in which he ran up five bogeys in a four-over-par 76. McIlroy had a 72, Johnson a 74.
In the meantime, spare some thought for Ian Poulter, a former winner of the event, who has been coming to terms with the fact that, at 42, he finds himself the oldest player in the field. Europe’s Ryder Cup hero has been taking a little teasing in good spirit, but the competitive fire still burns within.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve been coming here since 2005,” he said after finishing on three under par. “It would certainly be nice to win it as the oldest player in the field. I’ll certainly be giving it a go.”