Bubba Watson takes clubhouse lead in Shenzhen

Joanna CHIU
Bubba Watson of the US watches his shot at the Shenzhen International tournament in Shenzhen, in China's southern Guangdong province on April 20, 2017

Two-time Masters champion American Bubba Watson led the first round of the storm-interrupted Shenzhen International on Thursday after scoring six under par.

The clubhouse leader, ranked 22 in the world, clinched an early lead by shooting an eagle and five birdies before storms in the area suspended play for two hours in the afternoon.

"I hit a lot of good shots and a lot of greens, so I'm pretty happy with six-under. All in all, a great day and a good start, especially as we thought it was going to rain early on," Watson told reporters.

The 38-year-old is competing against other star players including South African duo Haydn Porteous and Dean Burmester, Germany’s Max Kieffer, Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and France's Grégory Bourdy.

Play was halted for the night shortly before 7PM (1100 GMT), meaning 56 players will complete their first round early Friday morning before the second round begins for everybody.

Porteous, Burmester, Kieffer, Jaidee and Bourdy were hot on Watson's heels after they all completed the first round at five under par.

"Well that was interesting...It's not often you birdie more than half the course!" 22-year-old Porteous commented on Twitter earlier Thursday.

If the veteran Watson wins, it would be his second European Tour title and first tournament victory in over a year.

The father-of-two had lost over 15 pounds after making adjustments to his diet this year.

"I've been working so hard with my putting on getting more speed and getting the ball to the hole, to at least give it a chance to go in. That's what I did better this first round compared to the last couple of years here," Watson said.

Local favourite Li Haotong, ranked 151 in the world and winner of the Volvo China Open last year, completed the Shenzhen first round at three over par.

After Friday, there will be an elimination and only the top half best-performing players will compete during the weekend for the title.

This is the third edition of the Shenzhen International at the Genzon Golf Club -- the first Chinese course to host multiple European Tour events.