Marc Warren leads Maybank Championship as Danny Willett finds form

Marc Warren during his first round at the Maybank Championship. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

Scotland's Marc Warren equalled the lowest score of his European Tour career to take a first-round lead at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia, as Masters champion Danny Willett enjoyed a welcome return to form.

Warren carded seven birdies and an eagle in a 9-under-par 63 at Saujana Golf and Country Club, which left him two shots ahead of Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai.

Willett, who has struggled for consistent form since claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, was part of a six-strong group three shots back on 6-under, which included American Peter Uihlein and Hong Kong Open winner Sam Brazel.

Warren, who needed a strong finish to last season to keep his card, birdied four of his first six holes before making the most of a stroke of good luck to eagle the par-5 eighth.

The 35-year-old said: "My iron play was very good today. It was nice to get around without a bogey. It is a tough golf course, especially with the wind and the heat and everything else, and grainy greens, too.

"If you shoot a score of 9-under, you're putting really well, so I'll take a lot of confidence from today and move on to tomorrow."

Just eight weeks before defending his Masters title, Willett carded six birdies in his first bogey-free round since last year's BMW PGA Championship.

His round went some way to making up for missing the cut at last month's Abu Dhabi Championship and finishing 54th at last week's Dubai Desert Classic.

Willett said: "It's not been the start I would have wanted to the season, with how things have been, but we're still doing the same, still working hard, still training hard, not trying to do anything different.

"We're just trying to get the confidence levels up to where they have been and start hitting some good golf shots again. Today was nice because we took what we've been working on to the golf course and played some good stuff."

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel recorded a 71 on his return to action following a knee injury, while Lee Westwood could only manage an opening 73.