New world number one Lee Westwood struck a six-under par 66 in the first round of the HSBC Champions on Thursday to lie one shot off the pace set by his Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari.
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But Tiger Woods, the man Westwood ousted from the top of the golf rankings, lurked dangerously just three shots off the lead in the seven million dollar tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
Molinari hit seven birdies to finish with a 65, one ahead of England's Westwood, with Sweden's Henrik Stenson, Noh Seung-Yul of South Korea, and Japan's Yuta Ikeda all tied on 67. Woods is just a stroke back after a 68.
"It was obviously a good round as the conditions were perfect. I know the scoring was a bit lower than what most people had expected but most importantly, I played well and putted well," said Italy's Molinari.
"Everything seems to be in the right place at the moment," he added.
Westwood, who this week ended Woods' five-year reign as world number one, showed little rust from recent inaction due to a calf injury.
"It's nice to go out there and show everybody that there is a particular reason why I got to (world number one). I think I did that today," he said.
The tournament -- Asia's biggest -- has grown in stature with its elevation last year to become one of four World Golf Championships and the battle for number one has boosted its profile.
Woods' ouster from the top ranking followed a nightmare period that began with revelations of serial philandering and subsequent plummeting form, but the world number two served notice Thursday he is still a force.
Woods, who has not won a tournament this year, bogeyed his first hole but that was his only blemish in a round in which he showed flashes of brilliance.
On his sixth hole of the day, a par four, Woods blasted a tee shot into a tangle of thick, head-high brush, but somehow managed to hack his next shot through a gap to the edge of the green. He parred the hole.
"And then from there, I got it rolling a little bit, which was nice. I think the key to the round there was... that save, and I was able to kind of build some momentum from there," he said.
"I feel good," added Woods, who only just missed a pair of long birdie putts.
A win at Sheshan would give any of the world's top four players -- Westwood, Woods, Germany's Martin Kaymer and defending HSBC champion Phil Mickelson of the United States -- the top ranking.
Mickelson finished the day four strokes off the pace while Kaymer carded an even-par 72.
"I think the world rankings are reflective of how competitive world golf is at the moment. Nobody is out and out world number one," said Westwood.
"I think that's partly to do with Tiger not having played quite so well this year, and partly to do with Tiger having made everybody else elevate their games."