2013 champ Johnson 2 shots off HSBC lead

Sheshan International GC offered little resistance Thursday, as 59 players broke par (under lift, clean and place conditions) in the opening round of the WGC-HSBC Champions, led by Branden Grace‘s 9-under 63. Here’s how things stand going into the second round in Shanghai.

Leaderboard: Branden Grace (-9), Kevin Kisner (-8), Steven Bowditch (-8), Thorbjorn Olesen (-8), Danny Willett (-7), Patrick Reed (-7), Dustin Johnson (-7)

What it means: Grace continued his stellar play this year, which has seen him finish T-4 in the U.S. Open, third in the PGA and T-20 in the Open Championship – all career bests – and go 5-0-0 for the International team in the Presidents Cup. Twenty-nine players are within five shots of him, however, including Reed and 2013 champion Johnson, both at 7 under, and 15 players at 4 under, including Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Round of the day: Grace was flawless, with nine birdies and nary a dropped shot. He started on the back nine, turned in 5 under, and added four more circles on his second nine.

Best of the rest: Kisner, Bowditch and Olesen all shot 8-under 64. Kisner’s round was bogey-free, while Bowditch and Olesen each dropped a shot.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott made the turn in 2 under par, but double-bogeyed the par-5 second hole, bogeyed No. 3 and doubled the par-3 sixth on his way to a 75.

Main storyline heading into Round 2: With such a big pack on his heels, Grace is going to have to keep the pedal to the metal to stay in the lead. The most intriguing contender is Johnson, who won this event in 2013 (he didn’t play in 2014) and is 31 under par in his last five rounds on this course. His only dropped shot Thursday came on the drivable par-4 16th hole, where he made bogey.

Quote of the day: “Barely had a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing.” – Grace

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