Shanghai - American Nick Watney stole Tiger Woods's thunder at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Thursday as he raced to a two-shot lead, but the world number one is lurking dangerously three off the pace.
Watney, who qualified for the $7 million event by winning February's Buick Invitational on the PGA Tour, stormed out of the blocks with back-to-back birdies and never looked back.
He ended with an eight-under-par 64 to tie the course record and it could have been better if not for a bogey on the last.
Fellow American Ryan Moore, Germany's Martin Kaymer and Northern Ireland's Shane Lowry are in a share of second after firing 66s.
A group of four are one further back on five under, including Paul Casey, Anthony Kim and Lin Wen-Tang, with the Taiwanese star the best-placed player from the Asian Tour.
They sit alongside Woods, who has made clear he wants to win this week after finishing second in 2005 and 2206.
"I was putting well and just tried to give myself as many chances as possible, and I was able to make a few," said the California-based Watney, who has two PGA Tour titles to his name.
"It was just one of those days where everything was feeling really good, so I wasn't jumpy."
Watney, on his first visit to China, is conscious that Woods is only three shots behind but the 28-year-old said he would try not to let the pressure get to him.
"I'm in a great position, but at the same time there's a long way to go. It's always good to beat Tiger and hopefully I can keep a little cushion between us," he said,
The tournament has been upgraded to a World Golf Championship event this year and the size of the galleries reflected the surging interest, with more people here on a Thursday than over the weekend last year.
Most of the attention was on Woods, with at least 1 000 spectators following him around the par-72 Sheshan Golf Course on a sun-drenched day, with the cameras clicking despite appeals for fans not to take pictures.
The American superstar, who has won an unprecedented 16 of the 30 WGC events he has entered, started on the 10th and went to the turn at two-under-par with birdies at the 14th and 16th.
Four more birdies on the back nine pushed him up the leaderboard although a bogey on the sixth (his 15th hole) blotted his scorecard.
He said it wasn't his best day, but he was happy.
"It wasn't my best ball-striking round for sure, but I made some putts which was nice, and just managed my game well. That was about it," he said, adding that he was a put off by cameras clicking as he was playing.
"A lot of times when we play overseas, it kind of gets that way and you know what to expect," he said. "The marshals did a great job helping us out and were really trying to give us an opportunity to play."
His long-time rival Phil Mickelson, the 2007 champion, had a solid day to be two behind Woods, but feels he should have done better.
"I had an opportunity to shoot a really good round and just didn't do it," said the world number two.
"So I'll need to come out on Friday shoot something in the mid-60s and get myself right back in it."
Among European Tour players, money leader Lee Westwood stroked a 70 while Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy struggled to a 73.
It was a disastrous day for defending champion Sergio Garcia with the Spaniard out-of-sorts to be 11 behind Watney.
Asia's first Major winner, Yang Youn-Eun, who held off Woods to memorably win here in 2006, hit an even par 72.
First round scores from the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan International Golf Club on Thursday:
64 - Nick Watney (USA)
66 - Ryan Moore (USA), Martin Kaymer (GER), Shane Lowry (IRL)
67 - Tiger Woods (USA), Anthony Kim (USA), Lin Weng-Tang (TPE), Paul Casey (ENG)
68 - Matt Kuchar (USA), Nick Dougherty (ENG), Jyoti Randhawa (IND), Pat Perez (USA)
69 - Soren Kjeldsen (DEN), Brian Gay (USA), Alvaro Quiros (ESP), Phil Mickelson (USA), Rodney Pampling (AUS), Garth Mulroy (RSA), Jason Dufner (USA), Henrik Stenson (SWE)
70 - Ernie Els (RSA), Lee Westwood (ENG), Ross Fisher (ENG), James Kingston (RSA), Alexander Noren (SWE), Koumei Oda (JPN), Camilo Villegas (COL)
71 - Mark Brown (NZL), Retief Goosen (RSA), Mark Murless (RSA), Scott Strange (AUS), Stewart Cink (USA), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Lam Chih-Bing (SIN), Chapchai Nirat (THA), Jerry Kelly (USA), Oliver Wilson (ENG)
72 - Ryo Ishikawa (JPN), Greg Chalmers (AUS), Ian Poulter (ENG), Yang Youn-Eun (KOR), Simon Dyson (ENG), Michael Jonzon (SWE), Daisuke Maruyama (JPN), Geoff Ogilvy (AUS), Peter Hanson (SWE), Martin Laird (SCO)
73 - Robert Allenby (AUS), Rory McIlroy (NIR), Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Zhang Liangwei (CHN), Liang Wenchong (CHN)
74 - Sean O'Hair (USA), Danny Lee (NZL), Rory Sabbatini (RSA), Padraig Harrington (IRL)
75 - Sergio Garcia (ESP)
77 - Steve Marino (USA)