(Reuters) - Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson made a late charge up the leaderboard to get within four shots of surprise leader, China’s Huang Wen-yi, after Thursday’s opening round of the European Tour’s Shenzhen International.
Playing for the first time since presenting Jordan Spieth with his green jacket at Augusta National, Watson reeled off three birdies in a row on his back nine to sign for a two-under-par 70 at the Genzon Golf Club.
That left the American tied for 17th, four strokes behind 34-year-old Huang, who is ranked 1,189th in the world, but quickly making up ground.
A former labourer who never picked up a golf club until he was 22, Huang won last month’s Mainland China Qualifying Tournament by a whopping seven strokes and has continued his good form.
His round of 66 on Thursday featured eight birdies and left him with a one stroke lead over American Peter Uihlein, Chile’s Felipe Aguilar, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and South Korea’s An Byeong-hun.
”Last year I played very bad,“ said Huang. ”This year I have changed my swing and yesterday I changed the driver and I like the new driver.
“I like the course. The green speed is very good.”
Watson, who won last year’s WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai in a playoff, initially struggled with his putter in his return to China but got things going late.
“It was a slow start, getting used to the greens,” he said.
”The speed, coming from the Masters to here, is a little different.
“I three putted one hole, some of my chips didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, but I made three in a row there to get to two-under so that’s nice.”
Writing by Julian Linden in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly