SHANGHAI, China (AP) — Kevin Stadler of the United States and Sweden’s Niclas Fasth each shot 8-under 64s on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the HSBC Champions tournament.
Stadler and Fasth were three shots ahead of Vijay Singh at Sheshan Golf Club, and four clear of a large group of players – including American Phil Mickelson, British Open champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Englishman Paul Casey – at 68.
Stadler, who was in danger of losing his American tour card, finished tied for 15th place last weekend in the final event of the U.S. season – the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Orlando, Florida. He wound up in the top 125 on the money list – barely, at No. 124 – which allowed him to keep his card.
The relief showed on Thursday.
“It was great to come here and play a worry-free tournament,” Stadler said. “I haven’t had many of them in the last month or two.
“I was trying not to let it bother me, but it was pretty apparent I was a little on edge because I felt great today being through with all of that.”
The son of Craig Stadler – known as “The Walrus” – Kevin Stadler is large like his dad and has a small goatee. But he’s never picked up a similar nickname like, perhaps, “Baby Walrus.”
“No, that doesn’t work very well, thankfully,” Stadler said. “I’ve avoided that for most of my life. I’d love to keep it that way.”
Stadler had six birdies on the front nine – three straight to open the round.
“Absolutely, it was a great start,” he said.
He dropped one shot on the back nine, a bogey on No. 11 that came after his drive landed in a bunker. A bad lie forced him to chip out sideways, settling for “an easy 5.”
The 64s matched the course record, which was also recorded by Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Michael Campbell.
Fasth also got off to a great start, dropping a 12-foot birdie putt on the first hole, then added an eagle-3 on No. 2, where he sank a 25-foot putt after landing a 5-wood to the back of the green.
“It was a perfect start for me,” Fasth said. “To be 3-under after two holes, it’s not every day you get that. And I just kept playing on.”
Without Tiger Woods in the field – he played here last year but failed to win – most of the attention has turned to No. 2-ranked Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson birdied three of the first four holes and then played steady, mostly error-free golf.
“I just kind of played solid after that,” Mickelson said. “It shows there’s some low scores out there, but I feel like I played pretty good to get to 4-under.”
Mickelson is playing his second straight event in Asia – and his first in China. He finished in a disappointing tie for 23rd place last weekend in Singapore – 16 shots behind winner Angel Cabrera.
Mickelson, who heads home after this event, blamed his poor finish in Singapore on “a bit of a virus” over the weekend, which was made worse by the tropical heat in Singapore. He said this week he’s “nearly 100 percent.”
“I want to spend more time in Asia,” Mickelson said. “I feel like I’m learning a lot. My kids are with me and they’re learning a lot, too. The quality of golf course here is every bit as good as the States.”
“Mickelson played with China’s best player – Liang Wenchong. Liang shot 69 and impressed the two-time Masters champion.
“I was very pleased with Liang, he’s a wonderful player,” Mickelson said. “I think he’s got some great things to come.”
The HSBC tournament has drawn 10 of the world’s top 20 players. Though it’s still 2007, the HSBC event is also the first of the 2008 PGA European Tour season, which has become a 12-month season without a break.
“This is the best scenario we can have on the European Tour to get these tournaments in where there is room on the schedule,” Fasth said. “Yes, they are on the wrong side of New Year’s Eve, but this is the way it goes these days.”