Fitzpatrick hoping to turn close calls into win in China

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Matthew Fitzpatrick has been close. Four times this year, in fact, and five times within the last 12 months. In most cases, it hasn’t been a situation of the Englishman faltering but instead he simply hasn’t been able to keep pace.

There was Francesco Molinari’s closing 64 to race past him at Bay Hill, then a 66 from Andrea Pavan in Germany. Fitzpatrick’s final-round 64 at the Scandinavian Invitation came up one shot short when Erik Van Rooyen matched it, and earlier this month Bernd Wiesberger shot a 65 to beat him at the Italian Open.

“I feel like I’ve played well enough this year to win,” Fitzpatrick told reporters Thursday at the WGC-HSBC Champions. “Just five individuals that just really annoyed me and gone one better.”

WGC-HSBC Champions: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Fitzpatrick has an opportunity to get that elusive trophy this week in China, where he opened with a 6-under 66 that left him in a tie for third and two shots behind leader Haotong Li. Fitzpatrick made seven birdies against one bogey and admitted after the round he expected his score to hold up as the opening-round lead.

“Just shows how good the guys are,” Fitzpatrick said. “The rough’s thick, and the greens are firm and fast and slopey, and it’s not easy. I’m delighted with 66.”

China’s Li (64) dazzles Shanghai crowd in first round of WGC-HSBC

Fitzpatrick, though, knows better than most how quickly fortunes can shift at Sheshan International Golf Club. It was just last year when he opened with a 5-under 67 only to balloon to a second-round 80 and tumble all the way into a tie for 54th after adding a final-round 81.

This time around he’s eager to remain a little more consistent while hoping to be the player that surges to the top of the leaderboard over the weekend rather than playing the role of hard-luck bystander.

“I can’t say it’s definitely going to happen. I’d love to say definitely,” he said. “No, it’s one of those you can’t sort of keep thinking about it. You’ve just got to keep putting yourself in position.