IRVING, Texas (AP) — Brooks Koepka leaned in for a closer look at his ball buried in deep rough when a critter he couldn’t identify caused him to jump back with a bit of a startled look.
His best guesses were a frog or rat, though he was too disoriented to be sure. It definitely wasn’t a birdie, because Koepka was on his way to finishing with two straight bogeys after sharing the lead late in his opening round of the AT&T Byron Nelson on Thursday.
A year after losing to Sergio Garcia in a playoff at the TPC Four Seasons, Koepka settled for a 3-under 67 and trailed co-leaders James Hahn and Ricky Barnes by three shots.
“It jumped out and I didn’t know what was going on, freaked me out,” said Koepka, who needed help from a bevy of tournament volunteers and fans to find his ball while hitting two shots out of the thick grass and just missing a chip that would have saved par on the ninth hole, his last.
“I was so in amazement of what just happened, whether it jumped out, scared me. I couldn’t see it because it ran underneath the grass again.”
FULL LEADERBOARD: AT&T Byron Nelson
Matt Kuchar, Jhonattan Vegas, Jason Kokrak and Cameron Tringale shot 66, and top-ranked Dustin Johnson topped the group at 67, a stroke ahead of fourth-ranked Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the No. 6 player competing in his hometown event.
Masters and defending Nelson champion Garcia, ranked fifth, had three bogeys on the front nine and just one birdie in a 73 that left him tied for 93rd.
The event is the last at TPC Four Seasons, ending the tournament’s 35-year run in Irving. The tournament will move to the new links-style Trinity Forest Golf Club south of downtown Dallas next year.
Tringale was the only player with a lower score than Johnson in a blustery afternoon round, while Hahn and Barnes played in slightly calmer conditions in the morning.
“It was blowing hard and it was gusty,” said Johnson, who has four top-10 finishes in seven previous Nelsons. “I thought it was very difficult to judge the wind and control the ball. Felt like there were a lot of times I hit really good shots that didn’t end up in good spots.”
Using a mallet putter instead of his traditional blade, Spieth made a 10-footer for his second straight birdie on his 17th hole, the par-4 eighth. Normally one of the best putters on tour, the Dallas native was frustrated with that part of his game after missing the cut at the Players Championship last week.
“It’s nothing crazy new,” said Spieth, whose best Nelson finish remains his tie for 16th as a 16-year-old amateur in 2010. “It helps me line up a bit better and that’s kind of been my struggle is lining the putter up where I want to. I just haven’t quite dialed in the speed yet.”
Day birdied the par-4 11th when he chipped to 12 feet off a cart path behind the green after a 326-yard drive on the 309-yard hole. On the next hole, he had to bend his second shot around tree from the rough and saved par. Day eagled the par-5 seventh and curled in a 28-footer for birdie on 18.
“In this wind, I think everyone’s kind of scrambling,” said Day, whose first PGA Tour win came at the 2010 Nelson. “I was not going to drop it all the way back onto the other side of the road. It was just in long grass and I wouldn’t be able to flop it over. It was quite a simple shot. You just had to contact it correctly.”
Hahn finished a bogey-free round with a 22-foot birdie putt on 18 to match his lowest round of the season. The two-time tour winner saved par with a 24-footer on 14. Hahn’s first four birdies were inside 10 feet.
Barnes, who has made four straight cuts after missing 10 of his previous 13, started a run of three straight birdies with a chip-in on his 15th hole, the par-4 sixth. He had two bogeys.
“I’m having signs of brilliancy,” said Barnes, still looking for his first win in his 255th PGA Tour start. “I just need to put it all together.”
Koepka birdied his first two holes and was 5 under through 13 holes before stumbling late. On No. 8, his 17th hole, Koepka had to lift a folder lawn chair to uncover his ball behind the green. He missed the par putt.
After missing on a birdie chance for the win in 2016, Koepka went in the water on 18, the first playoff hole, to open the door for Garcia to become the only two-time winner since Lord Byron’s event moved to the Four Seasons.
“I didn’t play very good today,” Koepka said. “Even last year, I didn’t play very good around this place and just managed to get a decent score. Three under isn’t very good around here. I’ll take it for how I played.”
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Lexi Thompson had six birdies in a seven-hole stretch and finished with a 6-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Kingsmill Championship.
Playing her third tournament since losing the ANA Inspiration in a playoff after being penalized four strokes for a rules violation that a TV viewer spotted, Thompson had a one-stroke lead over U.S. Solheim Cup teammates Gerina Piller and Brittany Lincicome and young American Angel Yin.
Thompson played her opening nine in even par with a birdie on No. 11 and a bogey on No. 17, then birdied No. 1 and Nos. 3-7 on Kingsmill Resort’s River Course.
“The second nine was pretty crazy,” Thompson said. “I hit some great shots and rolled a few good putts, so definitely helps out my confidence.”
Thompson played alongside Piller and defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn.
“It always helps to see the other players in your group play well,” Thompson said about Piller. “She played great today, too. She struck it very well and rolled a lot of great putts. It’s something that we feed off each other with.”
Jutanugarn shot a 72.
On Wednesday, Thompson began a charitable partnership with the SEAL Legacy Foundation called the Lexi Legacy Challenge, completing her first parachute jump by landing on the first tee for her pro-am round. She made her sky diving debut in tandem with a Navy SEAL.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Thompson said. “Supporting the SEAL Legacy Foundation is my No. 1, and just the military in general. But the only way I would jump out of a perfectly good plane is with a SEAL on my back. There was nothing like it. Words can’t describe the feeling. It was just like a feeling of freedom jumping out.”
Top-ranked Lydia Ko was two strokes back at 67 along with Sarah Jane Smith and Giulia Molinaro.
“I don’t think I was hitting the ball fantastic, so there is a little bit of improvement to do there,” Ko said. “The girls are playing great, so I know that I need to try and keep up, and to be in contention, I need to make a lot of birdies out there.”
Piller had six birdies and a bogey.
“It’s always good to get off to that kind of start and get comfortable,” Piller said. “The greens are rolling phenomenal. The course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it. Just happy to be under par and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Lincicome had five birdies in a bogey-free round. She won the season-opening event in the Bahamas.
“I think it’s best I’ve ever seen it,” Lincicome said about the course. “The greens are so fast. If you get above the hole you got to be really careful.”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Scott McCarron delivered another finishing eagle with the lead on the line.
McCarron eagled the par-5 18th hole for a 7-under 65 and a share of the opening-round lead Thursday in the first of the PGA Tour Champions’ five majors.
Lee Janzen, Jeff Sluman and Miguel Angel Jimenez joined McCarron atop the leaderboard at Greystone.
McCarron, seeking his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory, had a big finish.
“I called bank shot out there from 245 (yards) and just one-hopped the back of the grandstands in there about 3 1/2 feet and was able to curl that one in,” he said.
His eagle on the 54th hole at the Allianz Championship in February turned a one-stroke deficit into a win.
Janzen had a run of six birdies and a bogey from holes 10-17 while Sluman and Jimenez closed with birdies on the 526-yard par 5.
“It’s a hole you’ve got to take advantage of, you’ve got to make birdie,” McCarron said. “If you can get it close and make eagle, it’s a good thing, and it always feels good to finish with an eagle.”
Both Sluman and Jimenez mustered four-hole birdie streaks during their rounds.
Kenny Perry, the 2014 winner, was a stroke back along with David Frost, Fred Funk, Scott Parel, Marco Dawson and Tommy Armour III. Frost won four years ago.
Perry had an eagle on No. 15.
The four-way tie for the lead is the largest on tour since eight players shared the lead after 18 holes at the 2015 Senior British Championship.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 69. John Daly, coming off a victory in the Insperity Invitational, shot a 71.
The 1998 U.S. Open champion, Janzen is seeking his second PGA Tour Champions victory after winning the ACE Group Classic in 2015.
“I hit the ball really well,” he said. “You know, there’s two parts of the game, you figure out what you want to do and what shot you want to hit, and then the hard part is actually doing it. So when the ball actually goes where you want it to go and does exactly what you want it to do more than a few times during a round, it just makes for a better day.
“It’s hard not to shoot a good score when you’ve got that kind of control, when the ball’s landing the distance you want, you’re keeping it below the hole and playing it on the proper side of the hole and proper side of the fairway all day long.”
Sluman, who won the 1988 PGA Championship, had four birdies on both the front and back nines with just one bogey marring the round.
Jimenez, a Spaniard with four PGA Tour Champions wins and 21 international victories, wasn’t surprised by the crowd at 65.
“Well, the golf course is generous, right?” he said. “If you hit a good shot, the golf course allow you to make birdie. It’s in superb condition.”