Westwood shines on golfing return

11/4/2010 7:40:19 AM
Lee Westwood   (Getty Images)
Lee Westwood (Getty Images)

Lee Westwood made an impressive return to action in China to lie just one shot behind Ryder Cup teammate Francesco Molinari at the World Golf Championships - HSBC Champions.

Italian Molinari produced a masterclass in iron play as he shot a bogey-free seven under par round of 65 at Sheshan to lead from newly crowned World Number One Westwood.

Molinari began on the back nine and carded consecutive birdies at the 13th and 14th before picking up another shot at the short par four 16th to turn in 33.

But the highlight of the 27 year old's round came in a run of four successive birdies, which began with a chip-in at the third.

He then hit a string of approach shots close, highlighted by his tee shot at the par three sixth which was struck straight at the flag, before he confidently holed a difficult eight foot downhill putt.

"It was a great start and I'm happy with the game," said Molinari.

"I hit three great iron shots into four, five and six and holed the putts. It was a very good round, very consistent."

Westwood ended Tiger Woods' five-year reign at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking without hitting a ball on Monday as he recovered from a calf injury, but was well aware in the build-up to this week that he would need to maintain his excellent form from the last two years in order to remain there.

"I just went out there to enjoy myself as World Number One and have a bit of fun," said Westwood, who showed no signs of rust on his first appearance since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as he carded a six under 66.

"I played well, I've been hitting it alright on the range.

"Not that I need to justify why I'm World Number One when I go out there, but it is nice to play well when you go out there after moving up the rankings.

"I'd like to reinforce the message even more by winning more tournaments."

Like his Ryder Cup teammate Molinari, Westwood started on the back nine and posted three birdies on the way out - it would have been four but for his putt at the 18th lipping out.

He then birdied the first from five feet and hit his tee shot at the sixth to within a foot but dropped his first shot of the day at the seventh.

But he responded in brilliant fashion, birdieing his last two holes - including a difficult putt at the ninth.

"I was a little bit surprised," admitted Westwood, who is playing only his third event since being forced out of the WGC- Bridgestone Invitational in August.

"I didn't really go out on the golf course with a number in mind, because I've played one strokeplay round since The Open Championship so I didn't really know what to expect. I've been at home unable to practice, I've just been trying to get my leg right."

There was more good news for the European contingent as Sweden's Henrik Stenson shot a five under 67 for a share of third, alongside Korea's Noh Seung-yul and Japan's Yuta Ikeda.

Woods, Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer can all make Westwood's stint at the top of the rankings a brief one this week, and despite the Englishman's good start he still has work to do to ensure a second week as World Number One.

Woods is lurking dangerously after a four under 68 which left him level with England's Luke Donald and Spain's Pablo Martin in a tie for sixth, while Mickelson is only one behind his compatriot.

Race to Dubai leader Kaymer opened with a level par 72, but his closest challenger for the European Number One spot is two over after Graeme McDowell carded a 74.