Schwartzel leads HSBC Championship

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, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

ABU DHABI, UAE -- Charl Schwartzel fired an eight-under-par 64 to take the lead in the suspended first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Schwartzel, the winner of last week's Joburg Open on the European Tour, recorded nine birdies and a bogey at Abu Dhabi Golf Club's National Course.

It is the fifth first-round lead of Schwartzel's career. Of the previous four times, three have resulted in a top-six finish, though he's never been victorious in such a situation.

"It just worked well today -- drove the ball well and gave myself lots of opportunities and converted most of my chances," Schwartzel said. "Just a really solid round."

Alone in second is three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, who shot a seven-under 65. Harrington's round went without a bogey, finishing with an eagle and five birdies.

Reigning U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, Alexander Noren and Niclas Fasth are all tied for third at six-under 66, while defending champion and 2010 PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer joined Danny Willett in sixth at five-under 67.

The field at this event contains several big names, including four of the world's top five players and all four reigning major champions.

World No. 1 Lee Westwood, playing in his first event of the year, is tied for 15th at three-under 69, while Phil Mickelson had two birdies and a bogey for a one-under 71.

"It's a course I battle with...I felt I deserved to break 70," Westwood said.

The round was suspended due to darkness with three players remaining on the course. All three, each at least two-over par with one hole remaining, will finish their rounds at 11 p.m. (et).

Of all the big names, it was Schwartzel who stood out on Thursday with a quick start.

The 26-year-old South African, who finished eighth in this tournament in 2006, birdied four of his first six holes, including three straight from the fourth. Following two pars, Schwartzel began a streak of four straight birdies that vaulted him atop the leaderboard.

"I went out and got off to a really good start," Schwartzel said. "I've been struggling with my game, with my swing, for awhile. Around a golf course like this, it's not (the) best thing to be doing that."

His lone misstep was at 17, a bogey to drop him back to seven-under, but he atoned for the mistake with his ninth and final birdie at the par-five 18th.

Schwartzel birdied three of the four par-five holes on the course, as well as two of the four par-threes.

Harrington began on the 10th hole and birdied the 13th, 15th and 18th in his first nine holes. He got to five-under with consecutive birdies at the fourth and fifth before chipping in for eagle at the par-five eighth to account for his score.

"It was a shock it went in," Harrington said of the eagle. "The first putt of the day I was away with the fairies, but I made the most out of the round -- another day that would have been a 69."

Fasth had six birdies in a bogey-free round, while McDowell ascended the leaderboard with five consecutive birdies to complete his round.

NOTES: Defending British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen recorded an even-par 72...Schwartzel's last first-round lead was at the 2010 WGC-CA Championship, where he finished second...This event has a total of three champions in five tournaments; Kaymer won last year and in 2008, while Paul Casey, who shot a one-over 73, won in 2009 and 2007. Chris DiMarco, the winner in 2006, is not participating.


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