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McDowell and McIlroy in chasing pack at HSBC

KEEGAN Bradley has not stopped pinching himself all year – and he did it again today after taking the lead in the final world championship of the season.

The 25-year-old, who in August became only the second player in 98 years to win the very first major he played in, began the HSBC Champions in Shanghai with a seven under par 65.

“Every week I'm amazed at who I'm around,” Bradley said after opening a two-stroke gap over fellow American Bo Van Pelt and Swedes Alex Noren and Fredrik Jacobson.

He had never played with Lee Westwood before, but out-scored both England's world number two and Australian Adam Scott, the other member of the three-ball, by four. “To be in a group like that in this tournament and to play like that is very rewarding and means a lot to me,” said Bradley. “A year ago this week I had just got my PGA Tour card. To think a year on I would be sitting here in the lead is pretty remarkable.”

He should be getting used to it, though. When Bradley played his first world championship three months ago he shared the halfway lead and only last

month he beat this season's other major champions, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel, at the PGA Grand Slam. He leads them all again now. McIlroy and Schwartzel had 70s, Clarke a 73.\[Shane Hegarty\]Highlight of Bradley's round was an eagle on the 538-yard 18th, his ninth. He thought about laying up short of the water, but went for it and holed a 20-footer.

Westwood nearly did better than that at the 594-yard 14th. A five-wood approach hit the flag and stopped less than two feet away.

Justin Rose also eagled there and had another on the second as he led the British challenge with a 68 on his first visit to Sheshan. He will resume in joint fifth place.

Graeme McDowell is alongside Westwood after admitting that he “threw the towel in a little bit” last weekend at the Andalucia Masters, where he failed to break 80 in the third and fourth rounds.

“It was probably one of the more embarrassing weekends I've ever had in my golf career,” said last year's US Open champion. “Valderrama can do that to you, but I had a long time to think about it coming over here and it was nice to go out there today and make some birdies (seven in all to go with his triple bogey at the short 17th).\[Shane Hegarty\]”I could not aim for the right side of the golf course because I couldn't rely on my draw and I couldn't aim at the left side of the golf course because I had no fade.

“I had no shot in the bag - and I couldn't make a putt either.

“I had a good chat with Pete (coach Peter Cowen) on Monday night and on Tuesday really felt my old self come back a little bit again. I've been angrier this year with myself because I want it too much - we're all guilty that sometimes. This game has beat me up this year, there's no doubt about it. It's hard because you're trying to prove things and you're trying to emulate last year.

“We're all very good at punching ourselves when we are down. That's the game.”

Fellow Ulsterman McIlroy has had no need to do that since winning the US Open this June - and, of course, he added a further £1.25million with victory in the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

Watched by girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the tennis world number one, he started with a bogey, but slowly worked his way back into things with three birdies.

“I feel as if I left a lot of shots out there, but 70 isn't a disastrous start,” the 22-year-old stated


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