Keegan Bradley sets WGC Champions pace

By Iain CarterBBC Sport golf correspondent
Keegan Bradley
Bradley won his first major, the US PGA Championship, in August

Graeme McDowell bounced back from the embarrassment of two rounds in the 80s in Spain last weekend with a 69 to stay in touch with first-round pace-setter Keegan Bradley at the WGC Champions event in Shanghai.

US PGA champion Bradley fired a seven-under 65 to lead the field by two while McDowell was forced to recover from a triple-bogey six on his eighth hole, having been four under par through the first seven.

McDowell's round was one better than that of Rory McIlroy, the man who succeeded him as US Open champion earlier this year.

McIlroy struggled to sustain the momentum of his lucrative victory at the unofficial Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

While the 22-year-old was collecting £1.25m - the biggest winners' cheque in golf - McDowell was struggling to find any form in the closing rounds of the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.

Reflecting on that performance, McDowell said: "[It was] probably one of the more embarrassing weekends I've ever had in my golf career.

"Eighty-one, 82 on the weekend doesn't do much for one's confidence, so it was nice to play well [on Thursday] and try to take some steps forward."

The Northern Ireland player had seven birdies while his compatriot McIlroy picked up two in his last four holes to claim a share of 18th place with, among others, England pair Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.

"I feel as if I left a lot of shots out there," McIlroy said. "It could have been a lot lower but 70 isn't a disastrous start and something I can definitely build on."

Leader Bradley was particularly pleased with his second shot at the par-five 18th, which was his ninth hole, where he hit a three-hybrid to 20 feet to set up an eagle three. "That was the best shot I hit all day," said the American.

There were five birdies and no dropped shots in his 65 and Bradley admitted that it is only now that he has been able to concentrate solely on golf since his shock first major win last August.

"I feel rested and I feel more acclimatised to how my week goes now as the US PGA champion and I'm starting to settle in," he said.

Justin Rose is the leading British challenger after a 68 that included two eagles, three birdies and three bogeys, giving him a share of fifth place at four under par.

He is one stroke ahead of world number two Lee Westwood - the highest-ranked player in the field - and fellow Englishman Simon Dyson.

Westwood came close to an albatross on the 594-yard par-five 14th when his second shot hit the flag and finished inches from the hole.

Tom Lewis made a disappointing start to his first World Golf Championships event with a six-over-par 78. The Englishman qualified for the 78-man invitational event by winning last month in only his third professional event.