Paul Dunne took his birdie tally for the season to 145 after an early triple-bogey seven gave him an early wake-up call in the weather-delayed Shenzhen International in China.
Denied his maiden European Tour win after a playoff with Edoardo Molinari in Morocco on Sunday, the Greystones star ran up a seven at his fifth hole at Genzon Golf Club but recovered with birdies at the seventh, ninth, 10th, 13th and 15th.
It all added up to a two-under-par 70 which left him tied for 18th, just four strokes behind two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.
The left-handed American shot a six-under-66 to lead by one shot from South Africa’s Haydn Porteous and Dean Burmester, Frenchman Grégory Bourdy and German Maximilian Kieffer.
Eight-time European Tour champion Thongchai Jaidee is also just one shot off the pace at five under par through 17 holes.
The Thai legend is one of 60 players who will resume their incomplete first rounds at 6:30 am on Friday after storms in the area forced play to be suspended for an hour and 50 minutes.
South Africa’s Dylan Fritelli shot a 68 to share seventh place on four-under par with Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen, Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger and Spain’s Eduardo De La Riva.
“You know anytime you shoot six under, shoot in the 60s, you’re happy with it but every golfer can pick and choose what they wish they did better. All in all a great day and a good start.”
“I thought I hit some putts really hard but they didn’t get to the hole. I have been working so hard on trying to get more speed I guess on the greens and trying to get my putter at least to the hole, even if they don’t go in to at least to give them the opportunity to go in, that’s what I did better this first round compared to the last couple of years here.
“It’s fun playing with him (Li Haotong). I’ve played with him a few times here and what a good kid he is, he’s only what 21 or 20, so it’s fun playing with him, getting to see him again and hang out with him. Tommy as you know, he likes to be quiet, so we tried to egg him on and get him to talk today.”
“I just made putts today. Most of my swings and most of my shots were really good today and there were no bad swings in there so it just made the score better. The more you play the golf course, the more you are going to learn it and get better at it, and like the saying is, this is our home course, so after two years of playing it I should know by now.
“The wind started to pick up on the back nine and I hit the shots that I needed to, especially the last three holes coming in, so to finish with three birdies was pretty much exactly what I was looking for.
“To have a real bounce back like I did both times where I should not really be dropping shots was key to keeping my momentum in the round. My caddie and I have really been talking about trying to stay positive on the golf course, especially after a tough seven months and I did that today and it seemed to pay off.
“I am very happy, it is a very good score. I didn’t really sleep much last night, I had a bit of jetlag so I only four hours of sleep, so I didn’t expect it this morning but obviously I’m delighted, it’s a very good start.
“It was just a grind. I really committed to all the shots today - I didn’t hit it that flush all the time - especially in the beginning but once you play well and get a bit of momentum, I woke up a bit on the back nine and then hit some really nice shots.
“It was solid from tee to green, I was never really in any trouble, I hit many greens and didn’t really hole that many putts, but just took advantage of the par fives, so my tee to green was very solid today.
“It is a very good start. I played solid, the course conditions are very nice and I enjoyed my morning, it was a good start to the tournament.
“The weather has been almost perfect so it was easier to shoot a lower score. I had some nice putts, all the rest of the game was good as well because I only missed one green.
“I’m really pleased, I played pretty solid all day and I am pretty happy with where the game is at. I had an up and down week last week, so it’s nice to open with a five under par like that.
“I drove it pretty good, I kept it in play and I think that’s key on this golf course. If you can keep it in play and give yourself chances of birdies, you’re not going to make too many mistakes. I think once you start missing quite a few shots but I managed to roll in a few putts in so it was quite nice.