Former Masters champion Danny Willett got into the hunt early at the CJ Cup in South Korea on Thursday.
The Englishman has not won a tournament since his shock 2016 success at Augusta National, but was joint second with a three-under 69 in the first round of the $9.5 million US PGA tournament.
Chez Reavie of the US was in front by one shot after a chilly and blustery day at the Club at Nine Bridges on the tourist island of Jeju, with South Korea’s Kim Si-Woo tied with Willett.
Willett hit every fairway and missed just one green, taking 31 putts on his round.
“It’s nice to get a score like that on a day where it’s easy to get on the wrong side of the par and kind of let things get to you,” said the 31-year-old. “In these conditions, it’s as good as you can ask for.”
During his prolonged dry spell Willett has gone through several coaching and caddie changes.
“It’d be nice to get a win but it’s also satisfying working as hard as you can and seeing the results, even just day to day.”
Reavie said he focussed on avoiding errors, with his only blemish a dropped shot at the par-3 14th.
Kim made a double bogey at only the second hole, but recovered with six birdies over the rest of his round, with just one more bogey.
Defending champion Justin Thomas – who beat Marc Leishman in a playoff last year – was tied for 33rd and five shots off the lead after a 73.
And US PGA Tour Player of the Year Brooks Koepka – whose wayward tee shot at the Ryder Cup last month left a spectator blinded in one eye – was among eight players on 71.
“I hit some good shots but missed a couple of putts early,” said Koepka. “It was a difficult day. Anything under par is a good score out there. I am pleased with it.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)