SHANGHAI – Tony Finau charged into a three-stroke lead at the midway point of the WGC-HSBC Champions on Friday with a splendid five-under 67 that was slowed only by a bad-luck bounce off a sprinkler head.
Finau had snatched the lead from overnight front-runner Patrick Reed and was running away from the pack after birdies on five of the first 10 holes at Shanghai’s Sheshan International Golf Club.
But Finau’s approach on the par-four 11th landed smack on a greenside sprinkler and bounded past the hole into a hazard, leading to double-bogey.
“That’s about as bad a break as I have ever had. But one thing I learned from this game is you take the good with the bad,” Finau said with a laugh.
But the 29-year-old American, whose fast-improving game has vaulted him up the golf world rankings to 17th, righted the ship with three birdies down the stretch.
“I knew I was still playing well and there was a lot of golf to be played,” said Finau, who proved an inspired captain’s pick for the USA in last month’s crushing Ryder Cup loss to Europe.
The first player of Polynesian descent to play on the PGA Tour, Finau totalled eight birdies to move to 11-under, with Reed at eight-under, along with defending champion and world number three Justin Rose and his fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.
After tearing up the lengthy Sheshan course with an opening-round 64, reigning Masters champ Reed had to scramble on Friday after finding water three times.
But he pulled off the shot of the day to avoid what he said would have been a “big number” on 18.
After slicing his tee shot into the water, Reed smacked a 170-yard iron over the water to a few feet from the pin, though he just missed the birdie putt to finish at par for the day.
Other big names failed to shine in a tournament dubbed “Asia’s major” and which annually gathers a premier field with its winner’s purse of $1.8 million.
Newly crowned world number one Brooks Koepka struggled to a 74 to end at two-over-par, while the man he replaced as the planet’s top-ranked player, Dustin Johnson, was another stroke behind.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy followed his opening round even-par 72 with a 77 to sit well off the pace.