SHANGHAI - Brandt Snedeker was optimistic he would start to climb back up the world rankings after an opening round of 69 at the WGC-HSBC Champions Thursday left him just two behind leader Graeme McDowell.

By his own lofty standards the 2012 FedEx Cup winner endured a lean 2014.  The American managed just three top 10s on the PGA Tour and saw his world ranking fall from 13th to 49th. "It's been a tough year," Snedeker told AFP after his round. "I have not played up to my expectations or what I'm capable of.  "But I know I'm on the cusp of some really, really good stuff so hopefully this is the beginning of it."

A 10th place finish in the Shriners Hospital for Children Open last month gave him an encouraging start to the new 2015 US PGA Tour season and he followed up with a share of second place at Sheshan Thursday behind McDowell's opening five-under 67. "I played solid golf and made some key putts," the man once regarded as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour said. "I'm excited about the next few days and getting in the heat of the battle again."

Snedeker also paid tribute to his backroom team, notably legendary swing guru Butch Harmon, coach Mark Horton and his caddie Scott Vail for helping to get him back on track. "I have been working with Mark for quite some time now. We're close friends and he's helped me a lot. And I started working with Butch Harmon in July," said Snedeker. "That makes things easier out here, having the best at what they do helping you on the full swing and mental side of things. "Having a great caddie makes a huge difference. Might be a couple shots a tournament. That's a big deal out here."

Snedeker was a staggering 11 shots better than current FedEx champion Billy Horschel, who endured a horror opening round of 80 as he found it difficult to keep out of the lush, punishing rough in the wind. Horschel carded five bogeys, two double bogeys and a solitary birdie as his eight over par total left him 13 strokes off the leader. He lies 75th out of the 78 golfers who remain in the field after the withdrawals due to injury Thursday of Canada's Graham De Laet and American Craig Stadler.

The 2013 FedEx Cup winer, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, had an altogether steadier start after skipping last week's BMW masters for the birth of his third child, Alice. The Swedish world number five shot a two under-par 70 to share eighth place with 10 other players, just three shots behind McDowell.