Week after keeping Tour card, Stadler tied for lead in China

Updated: November 8, 2007, 7:14 PM ET
Associated Press

SHANGHAI, China -- Kevin Stadler is feeling better these days. For proof, look at his 8-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead after Thursday's first round of the HSBC Champions tournament.

A few days ago and half a world away, Stadler salvaged his Tour card for next season. He needed to finish in the top 125 on the money list. He did, scraping by at No. 124 with a strong finish Sunday in the Children's Miracle Network Classic in Orlando -- the last event of the PGA Tour's season.

HSBC Champions Leaderboard

T-1. Stadler (-8)
T-1. Fasth (-8)
3. Singh (-5)
T-4. Harrington (-4)
T-4. Choi (-4)
T-4. Cabrera (-4)
T-4. McLardy (-4)
T-4. Casey (-4)
T-4. Mickelson (-4)
T-4. Sterne (-4)
T-4. Fisher (-4)

• Complete scores

"Sunday was a long day, a stressful day," said Stadler, who shared the lead with Niclas Fasth of Sweden. They both matched the course record at the Sheshan Golf Club, an American-style layout on the edge of Shanghai, graced by a clubhouse and surrounding estate built to resemble an Italian villa.

"I pretty much just went straight from the golf course to the airport to come over here," Stadler said. "It's just been a long few days. It was a long flight to begin with, and it would have been longer if I hadn't kept my card."

Stadler and Fasth were three shots ahead of Vijay Singh, and four clear of eight players at 68, including Phil Mickelson, British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey.

The tournament purse of $5 million is the largest in Asia. Although this and other inducements were not enough to draw Tiger Woods -- he played a year ago, failing to win -- it has attracted 10 of the world's top 20 players.

Stadler thrived without the stress.

"It was great to come here and play a worry-free tournament," Stadler said. "I haven't had many of them in the last month or two. I was right on the bubble pretty much for the last six weeks."

"I was trying not to let it bother me," he added. "But it was pretty apparent I was a little on edge because I felt great today being through with all of that."

The son of former Masters champion Craig Stadler -- known as "The Walrus" -- the younger Stadler is large like his dad and has a neat mustache and goatee. But he's never picked up a nickname like, perhaps, "Baby Walrus."

"No, that doesn't work very well, thankfully," Stadler said. "I've avoided that for most of my life. I'd love to keep it that way."

Stadler had six birdies on the front nine -- three straight to open the round.

"Absolutely, it was a great start," he said.

He dropped one shot on the back nine, a bogey on No. 11 that came after his drive landed in a bunker. A bad lie forced him to chip out sideways, settling for "an easy five."

The 64s matched the course record, which was also recorded by Woods, Henrik Stenson and Michael Campbell.

Fasth also got off to a great start, dropping a 12-foot birdie putt on the first hole, then added an eagle-3 on No. 2, where he sank a 25-foot putt after landing a 5-wood on the back of the green.

"It was a perfect start for me," Fasth said. "To be 3-under after two holes, it's not every day you get that. And I just kept playing on."

Without Woods, most of the attention turned to second-ranked Mickelson.

Mickelson birdied three of the first four holes and then played steady, mostly error-free golf. Afterward, he patiently signed autographs and seemed happy to have made the Asian swing.

"I just kind of played solid after that," Mickelson said. "It shows there's some low scores out there, but I feel like I played pretty good to get to 4-under."

Mickelson is playing his second straight event in Asia, and his first in China. He finished in a disappointing tie for 23rd place last weekend in the Singapore Open, 16 shots behind winner Angel Cabrera.

Mickelson, who heads home after this event, blamed his poor finish in Singapore on "a bit of a virus" over the weekend, which was made worse by the tropical heat in Singapore. He said this week he's "nearly 100 percent."

"I want to spend more time in Asia," Mickelson said. "I feel like I'm learning a lot. My kids are with me and they're learning a lot, too. The quality of golf course here is every bit as good as the States."

Mickelson played with China's best player Liang Wenchong. Liang shot 69 and impressed the two-time Masters champion.

"I was very pleased with Liang, he's a wonderful player," Mickelson said. "I think he's got some great things to come."

Though it's still 2007, the HSBC event is also the first of the 2008 PGA European Tour season, which has become a 12-month season without a break.

"This is the best scenario we can have on the European Tour to get these tournaments in where there is room on the schedule," Fasth said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press