IRVING (AP) – Sergio Garcia never played a practice round for the Byron Nelson Championship this week. He had already withdrawn from a British Open qualifier because of an infected fingernail on his left hand.
The problem made it difficult for Garcia to grip a club. His ring finger was so sore a few days ago, he thought he might not even be able to play.
Yet after an opening 4-under 66 Thursday, Garcia was only two strokes behind leader Jeff Overton and a stroke behind Ryan Palmer.
Garcia’s cure? Antibiotic cream, draining the infection, seeing the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and an opening eagle.
“It’s funny how golf is sometimes. Yeah, rarely practice at all and then we get there,” Garcia said about holing a sand wedge from 116 yards on his first hole, the 418-yard 10th. “I hit it and I saw guys on the green saying `In’ and I thought, `Perfect!’ I couldn’t have started in a better way.”
Garcia, the 2004 Nelson champion who hasn’t won since 2008, had only one bogey. He was among nine players with opening 66s.
Overton’s bogey-free 64 included a breaking 10-foot par-saver on the 220-yard par-3 second hole that he thought he had missed.
“It actually went in,” Overton said. “And next thing, I was able to hit a lot of great shots and strike out early. I never had a chance of making bogey from there. ”
Last year when he was on the Ryder Cup team, Overton had three runner-up finishes. That included being part of a three-way tie for second at the Nelson.
Overton followed his unexpected par at No. 2 with consecutive birdies. He then started his back nine with four birdies in a seven-hole stretch for his best score in 15 career rounds at the Nelson, even when his 22-foot birdie try on his last hole lipped out.
“It’s nice having confidence because of last year,” Overton said. “I hope this is the beginning of a good streak for me.”
Overton has made the cut in all but one of his previous 13 tournaments this season, but has finished better than 20th only once. That was sixth at the Honda Classic in March, and he’s had his missed cut and finished no better than 26th since then.
The TPC greens were pelted by hail described as half the size of baseballs during storms Tuesday night. Crews worked on the greens before and after a pro-am Wednesday.
During the opening round Thursday, players were allowed to treat hail damage as a ball mark that they could repair. They also took advantage of lift, clean and place being in effect because of potential damage to other areas of the course.
“The greens were great, so, you know, I got to give props to the grounds crew,” Dustin Johnson said. “They did a really good job of getting the greens ready, especially after that hail storm. You’ve definitely got to give them a hand.”
Johnson, who played with Garcia, was in the group at 66 along with Jeff Quinney, Scott Piercy, Will Strickler, Chris Riley, Josh Teater, Joe Ogilvie and Keegan Bradley.
Defending champion Jason Day shot a 72 that included a double bogey and four bogeys. He had three straight top-10 finishes before being 31st last week at Colonial, where he is a member.
A double bogey for Johnson on his second hole, the 329-yard 11th, came after he hooked his drive into the water going for the green and then hit his fourth shot over the green. He was bogey free after that with six birdie putts averaging more than 19 feet each — the short an 8-footer with a long of 35.
After playing only five holes during a British Open qualifier in the Dallas-Fort Worth area Monday, Garcia had a photo shoot for Adidas on Tuesday where he hit only once before “we were faking every shot.” He took 20-25 swings on the practice range before deciding not to play in the Wednesday pro-am and later went to the movies.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has played every major since the 1999 U.S. Open, and been in every British Open since he was an amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998.
Currently ranked 73rd in the world, he will have to get in the top 50 by June 13 to avoid having to qualify for the U.S. Open. Garcia had earlier indicated he wouldn’t go through sectional qualifying to play, but appears to have changed his mind.
“The hope is still that I play well enough this week that I don’t have to do it,” he said. “But at the same time, with what happened with the British Open qualifier and everything, I think that I’m willing to make a little bit of an effort. … My sister is coming for the U.S. Open, so I wanted to try to make it.”
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