Bubba Watson quickly shrugged off the disappointment of relinquishing his Masters golf crown with a battling two-under-par 70 on Thursday to lie within striking distance of the lead at the Shenzhen International.
American Watson admitted he struggled early in his opening round at the European Tour event after a rapid trip halfway across the world from Augusta, where he had finished one-over-par and 19 shots adrift of champion Jordan Spieth on Sunday.
However, he fought back superbly on the closing stretch after his day had threatened to fall apart after back-to-back bogeys dropped him to one over after 11 holes.
Watson sank three birdies in a row from the fifth, his 14th hole after starting on the 10th, as the putting stroke that went awry at the season’s first major returned with a vengeance in Shenzhen.
“It was a slow start, you know, getting used to the greens – the speed of them,” said Watson at the southern Chinese city’s Genzon Golf Club.
“Coming from the Masters to here is a little different. It’s not really about confidence – it’s about feeling the greens out.
“I three-putted one hole and some of my chips didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to … but made three (birdies) in a row there to help me to two under so it’s nice.”
Huang Wenyi cheered the local fans by leading the field on six under. He is a stroke ahead of four players on 67 – South Korea’s An Byeong-Hun, who aced the 225-metre eighth hole, American Peter Uihlein, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar.
Globe-trotting Watson, who triumphed at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai on his last visit to China in November, had a warning for those ahead of him – there would be no Masters hangover and he was definitely in Shenzhen to win.
“More practice and more feel and it’s going to get better,” he said ominously.
“The whole course sets up good for me and hit my driver quite nicely today off the tee. It set up some holes, so hopefully tomorrow I’ll make a few more putts.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t motivated to win.”
Australian Scott Hend is tied with Watson and a bunch of players on two-under 70.