|Keegan Bradley lines up his shot on the ninth green during the first round of the WGC-HSBC Champions golf tournament in Shanghai on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (REUTERS/Aly Song)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - Keegan Bradley couldn't have possibly imagined his rookie season on the PGA Tour would go quite like this.
He won the first major championship in which he participated and is the only rookie on tour this year with multiple victories. As such, Bradley was invited to play in this week's WGC - HSBC Champions, and he promptly shot a seven- under 65 Thursday to take a two-shot lead after the first round.
There aren't enough adjectives to describe the type of year Bradley is having, but unexpected might be the one that leads the list.
After graduating from the Nationwide Tour a year ago winless, he went on to win the Byron Nelson Championship in a playoff and then defied the odds by overcoming a five-shot deficit with three holes to reach a playoff and eventually capture the PGA Championship in August.
With the big wins came increased fame and, also, expectations, which Bradley has met once again. He was flawless on Thursday with an eagle and five birdies, outclassing what is an impressive field at Sheshan International Golf Club.
"It was a really fun day," Bradley said. "This course really suits me very well, and it's just a fun golf course for me to play. I hit my driver and go after some par-fives."
The nephew of Golf Hall of Fame member Pat Bradley, this Bradley was far better than world-class European Tour stars like Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in the first round. As a World Golf Championships event, this tournament is sponsored by both the PGA Tour and European Tour and comprises many of the year's best players.
While Bradley's day was certainly sensational, he'll have some other big names with which to contend if he wants his third win of the year.
A trio of players share second at five-under 67, including last week's winner in Malaysia Bo Van Pelt. Fredrik Jacobson, who finished third, closed his round eagle-birdie-birdie to reach minus-five, while Alexander Noren also shot a 67.
Defending champion Francesco Molinari was poised to share second with the aforementioned three, but he finished double bogey-bogey to drop three shots and fall into a share of 18th at two-under 70.
Thursday, however, was the rookie Bradley's day.
He began his tournament in style with a birdie at the 10th hole and followed with another birdie at the 14th to get to two-under. Bradley's 15-foot eagle putt came at the par-five 18th, allowing him to make the turn at four-under 32.
"That was awesome," Bradley said. "That was the best shot I hit all day -- the second shot at 18, and then I hit a perfect putt. It's good to reward yourself with a good putt after a shot like that."
Around the turn, he posted three more birdies -- at Nos. 2 and 5 before a seven-footer at the eighth closed out his scoring at minus-seven.
Bradley was playing with a couple big-time veterans: Westwood and Adam Scott, both of whom are searching for the elusive major Bradley owns. Both Westwood and Scott finished their rounds at three-under 69, well off the pace of the first-timer.
Four players share fifth at four-under 68, including Thongchai Jaidee, K.J. Choi, David Toms and Justin Rose.
NOTES: McIlroy finished at two-under 70, as did Masters champion Charl Schwartzel...All four major champions are in the field. British Open champ Darren Clarke shot a one-over 73...There are 10 different nationalities represented among the top 17 players on the leaderboard.