Kuala Lumpur - Reigning US Masters champion Danny Willett shot a six-under-par 66 for his best round this year to lie three strokes behind Scotland's Marc Warren at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia on Thursday.
Willett was tied third with five others on the leaderboard including Malaysia's Arie Irawan and American Peter Uihlein, while Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai came in second place, two shots behind Warren.
Willett started the year by missing out on the Abu Dhabi Championship cut and finished a lowly 54th at the Dubai Desert Classic which he had won in 2016.
"It was good, it's always nice to get out early when you're in Malaysia," said Willett, ranked No 15 in the world.
"It was still roasting hot this morning but the wind stays calm for the first hour or so and allows you to get some shots in there nice and close. The wind picked up a bit towards the end and it plays a little trickier around here."
Warren was on fire despite the sweltering heat and humidity at Kuala Lumpur's Saujana Golf & Country Club, dropping in seven birdies and an eagle for a 63.
"I got off to a really nice start, six under for the first nine holes. Once the wind picked up on the back nine it was just a case of staying solid and hitting the greens," said Warren.
Phachara, whose name means diamond in Thai, could not believe he managed a 65, thanks to eight birdies.
"I didn't think I could shoot seven under. This course is a tough course. One or two under would be good and if I can make the cut, I'll be happy," said the 17-year-old.
Leading first-round scores from the Maybank Championship at the
par-72 Saujana Golf & Country Club in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday:
63 - Marc Warren (SCO)
65 - Phachara Khongwatmai (THA)
66 - Danny Willett (ENG), Arie Irawan (MAS), Peter Uihlein (USA), Marcel Siem (GER), Sam Brazel (AUS), Gaganjeet Bhullar (IND)
67- Lee Soomin (KOR), Lasse Jensen (DEN)
Richard T. Lee (CAN), Shubhankar Sharma (IND), Romain Wattel (FRA),
Gavin Green (MAS), K.T. Kim (KOR), Robert Karlsson (SWE), David Lipsky
(USA), Niall Turner (IRE),
69- Nino Bertasio (ITA), Bernd
Wiesberger (AUT), Wei-chih Lu (TPE), Alexander Levy (FRA), Renato
Paratore (ITA), Thitiphun Chuayprakong (THA), Gregory Havret (FRA),
Shih-chang Chan (TPE), Prom Meesawat (THA), Anirban Lahiri (IND), Lucas
Bjerregaard (DEN), Siddikur Rahman (BAN)