Rickie Fowler makes flying start at Shell Houston Open to begin perfect preparations for the Masters

World number nine Rickie Fowler warmed up for next week’s Masters by claiming the lead after the first round of the Shell Houston Open.

Fowler, who opted to miss last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, carded eight birdies in a flawless opening 64 to finish a shot ahead of Korea’s Sung Kang, whose solitary bogey came when he three-putted the 18th.

Former Open champion Stewart Cink, Jhonattan Vegas and Kyle Stanley were a shot further back, with England’s Justin Rose part of a group on five under which included fellow former major champion Keegan Bradley.

Fowler, finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014, but is yet to win one of golf’s biggest championships and missed the cut at Augusta National last year after rounds of 80 and 73.

However, the four-time PGA Tour winner – whose last success came in the Honda Classic in February – looks to be in far better form in 2017 and finished off his round in style with a birdie on the 238-yard ninth, his closing hole.

“The reason last week that I wanted to be off (was to) get some downtime rest, spend time with friends,” the 28-year-old told PGA Tour Live.

“I just don’t play four in a row and Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) is a place that I like to play. Unfortunately, I had to miss it last year, but I wasn’t going to miss it this year.

“So it was nice to have the week off to kind of relax, recharge a bit, and I love playing here. I like playing my way in the majors and they’ve been able to do a great job here with conditions around the greens and making it similar as possible to next week.

“Just playing and going through the process and getting ready makes things a lot easier when you go tee it up Thursday next week.”

Rose was level par after eight holes, but the 2013 US Open champion then birdied six of his next seven holes before a clumsy chip on the 16th cost him a second bogey of the day.

“I’m really pleased with that because I saw Rickie had shot eight under and I was kind…

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