The best season of Jamie Donaldson’s career could be about to get even better.
Playing against four of the world’s top five and all but one of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup side, the 37-year-old Welshman began the BMW Masters in Shanghai with a course-record 62 today to open a four-stroke lead.
Medinah pair Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari are in second place, with world number one Rory McIlroy, fellow Northern Irishman Michael Hoey and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal – 492nd in the world – tied for fourth five shots back.
After 254 European Tour events without a win Donaldson finally broke his duck at the Irish Open in July.
He is currently 51st on the world rankings and at the end of the year the top 50 earn invitations to The Masters in April. For a player who has only ever played four majors and never been to Augusta, that is a huge incentive.
The former amateur international – he partnered Luke Donald and Paul Casey to second place in the world team championship in 2000 – is also on course for his highest-ever finish on the Tour money list and up for grabs this weekend is a first prize of over €887,000.
“There’s a lot still to play for at this time of year,” Donaldson said after grabbing 10 birdies on the Lake Malaren lay-out.
“But there’s an awesome field here, so I need to keep playing like that. It was one of those rounds where you hit everything where you want to hit it and I putted really well.
“The course suits me – the fairways are quite generous and if you miss the bunkers you can play aggressive golf.”
Donaldson has had two 61s on the circuit and this was nearly another, his chip on the short 17th lipping out of the hole.
Nobody has led by more than four after one round all season and it is only two off the all-time Tour record set by Michael Campbell at the 2000 English Open.
Hanson and Molinari were the only two members of Olazabal’s side in Chicago not to win a game, but the Italian’s half with Tiger Woods in the final game did, of course, mean that Europe won the match.
He did not drop a stroke, while the Swede – unhappy about being rested for three of the sessions – had eight birdies, but also two bogeys.
Olazabal has not had a top 10 finish since January, but no longer has the burden of captaincy to carry around.
“I’m really glad it’s over – now it’s fun time,” he admitted after his 67. “My driver was the weakest link, but the rest of the game was pretty sharp.”
McIlroy described his round as “solid, not spectacular”, but a closing birdie in fast-fading light left the 23-year-old handily placed on the same course where he won last year’s Shanghai Masters.
He out-scored Justin Rose and Branden Grace, his closest challengers in the money list race, by one and three respectively, while Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter – playing for the first time since winning all four of his cup games – had to settle for matching Grace’s 70.