SHANGHAI – Luke Guthrie took only 19 putts in his round of 7-under 65, giving Americans the top three spots on the leaderboard Thursday in the BMW Masters.
Only three Americans are in Shanghai for this European Tour event. And one of them is John Daly, playing for the first time in nearly four months since surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right elbow.
Equally surprising was Guthrie, a promising young American who is taking a break from the start of a new PGA Tour season because he wanted more experience in the growing world of golf. He showed plenty of game on a day of 30 mph wind – so difficult that only 13 players broke par.
''It was one of the better rounds I've ever played,'' Guthrie said.
Daly relied on knockdown shots to cope with the wind and kept bogeys off his card for a 68. One shot behind was the one American that could have been expected to contend at Lake Malaren – Peter Uihlein, a European Tour member who already has one win this year and is 10th on the money list.
Uihlein got off to a poor start, three-putting for bogey on the second hole and then hitting his approach into the water right of the par-5 third green, even though the wind was ripping from right-to-left. He rallied with six birdies for a 69, and maybe the timing was just a coincidence. He was on the tee at No. 7 when he heard the Boston Red Sox had won the opening game of the World Series, 8-1.
''I was 5-under the rest of the day,'' Uihlein said.
The wind was relentless and contributed to threesomes taking some 5 1/2 hours to finish.
Graeme McDowell, trying to chase down Henrik Stenson in the Race to Dubai, holed a 90-foot eagle putt on the 13th hole in his first tournament as a married man. McDowell was at 70, part of a group that included Paul Casey, Thongchai Jaidee and Wales Open winner Gregory Bourdy.
Rory McIlroy, equipped with a new golf ball, drove the ball beautifully in the blustery conditions and shot 71. Stenson opened with a 72.
Guthrie played the opening two events in the new PGA Tour season in California and Las Vegas, and then flew halfway around the world to China. He will return to America for two more events after this, so Shanghai seems a long way to travel for just one week of golf.
But the 23-year-old from Illinois was determined to travel, and he accepted a sponsor's exemption to the BMW Masters about a month ago.
''This is my first time over in China and Asia, and I just wanted to challenge myself to come travel abroad and get used to this, and just keep gaining experiences and get better at becoming a global player,'' he said. ''And it's nice to get off to a good start today.''
His first trip overseas was this summer to Scotland for the British Open, where he missed the cut but picked up at least one lesson.
''I kind of drink a lot of Mountain Dew to a fault, and couldn't find Mountain Dew,'' he said. ''I packed some, so I'm learning.''
More important than the caffeine-laced soda was his short game. Guthrie had about a 25-foot putt on the 10th hole when he realized it was the longest putt he had faced all day. And then he realized he had one-putted every green on the front nine.
What skewed the statistics was his three-hole stretch in the middle of the back nine that built some separation – a routine up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 13th, pitching a 25-yard shot over the bunker and into the cup for an unlikely birdie on the 14th, and then using the wind to hold up a flop shot from beyond the green at the par-5 15th. Once it landed, the ball ran toward the cup like a putt and dropped for eagle.
He closed with pars for a score that left some players wondering what course he was on. The wind was blowing across on most of the course, making it tough to get near the hole. The greens were fast and frightening, and crispy toward the end of the round. Uihlein said he couldn't recall faster greens on the European Tour this year.
''I've never witnessed wind like this in China,'' McIlroy said.
Coming off a tie for second in Korea last week, McIlroy was pleased with the quality of his golf. He threw away shots with three-putt bogeys, from 10 feet on the fourth hole and with a poor chip that led to a three-putt bogey on the easy par-5 13th.
''From tee to green, it was really solid,'' McIlroy said. ''It could have been better. But on a day like today, it's just good to keep yourself there, or thereabouts. Luke shot 65, but the next is 4 (under) and 3 and 2. So it's not too bad.''
DIVOTS: Joost Luiten hit a tee shot and then withdrew with a shoulder injury. The BMW Masters is the first of four events called the ''Final Series'' in the Race to Dubai. Players are required to play two of the three events leading to the final event in Dubai. Luiten's WD counts as a start. ... Six players failed to break 80. Defending champion Peter Hanson, who has had back problems all year, opened with a 79. Graeme McDowell's wife, Kristen, is an interior designer. Rory McIlroy raved about the work she did at his south Florida home. Asked if she was expensive, McIlroy smiled and said, ''It's not just GMac making the money.''