IRVING (AP) – Marc Leishman is still looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour, three years after being the top rookie.
After an opening 5-under 65 at the Byron Nelson Championship, putting him within a stroke of leader Ryan Palmer, Leishman doesn’t have to worry about some of the mental hurdles he’s been working to overcome.
“I obviously still want to win, but I think I was pushing a bit too hard,” Leishman said after Thursday’s round. “Thinking about it too early in the week. Making a bogey or a couple of bogeys on the front nine and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m done.’ … You don’t have to play perfect to win. I’m learning that. I think it takes a fair while to learn that.”
Leishman was close to flawless to start the Nelson, with only one bogey before two eagles on the back nine. Alex Cejka also had a 65.
Palmer, the Nelson runner-up in a playoff last year, had a bogey-free opening round.
That is a good start for the local resident thinking about redemption and a chance to hold up the Nelson trophy.
A year ago, Palmer birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Keegan Bradley. Palmer then hit his approach into the greenside water to hand Bradley his first tour title.
“I didn’t lose it last year by any means,” Palmer said. “But to get back in the same setting with the same people watching, here where I live, and just to have that feeling again, this time be the guy standing with the trophy, that’s been my focus.”
With only a light breeze, 85 players were at par or better in the first round on the 7,166-yard course where Palmer and Bradley finished 72 holes last year at 3-under 277. The winds are forecast to be much stronger Friday and Saturday, like they were as the 2011 tournament progressed.
Coming off his victory at The Players Championship last weekend, Matt Kuchar overcome an opening bogey and was in a group of seven players at 66.
“Coming off momentum, a little tired,” said Kuchar, No. 5 in the world ranking. “It was a whole lot of extracurricular activities out of the norm for me, but I feel good about the round.”
Kuchar’s approach shot at No. 1 went over the green. He tried to putt it up the hill, but the ball ended up rolling back to his feet, prompting someone in the gallery to say, “I could have done that.”
When Kuchar tried again, he got the ball within 4 feet for his only bogey. He was under par to stay after birdies at Nos. 3 and 4.
Bradley, who won the PGA Championship three months after the Nelson, was among 13 players who shot 67. His up-and-down round included four bogeys, five birdies and an eagle.
The only other top 10 player this week is 10th-ranked Phil Mickelson. Back at the Nelson for the first time in five years, he had a 70 with two birdies and two bogeys.
“It’s a beautiful day, it’s warm, not too hot, the greens are in great shape. They’re receptive, you can get the ball stopped,” said Mickelson, the 1996 Nelson champ. “Really good opportunity to take advantage of the course, and I just didn’t.”
Palmer is sticking to the formula that worked last year at the Nelson, letting caddie James Edmondson call all the shots, telling him what and where to hit.
“Continuation from last year, that’s what’s cool,” Palmer said. “For some reason, I get in the frame of mind with this golf course and what me and him are doing, and it was the same exact thing. I didn’t move until he put the bag down and half of the time he pulled the club out of the bag and handed it to me, I didn’t know what the club was.”
Leishman, the 28-year-old Australian, hit 11 of 14 fairways and needed only 24 putts Thursday.
“It probably took longer than I would have liked to have a good round like this,” he said.
The 65 was Leishman’s best of 41 rounds this season and lowest since another 65 in the first of his 84 rounds last year, when he slipped to 65th in the FedEx standings — 45 spots below his standout rookie year of 2009.
“Last year was pretty disappointing. I felt like I got off to a good start and then just about nothing for the rest of the year, really,” Leishman said. “It’s the first time since I’ve been a pro that I’ve struggled for a decent amount of time, just not hitting the ball as well as I would like to, not holing putts. This year, I feel like I’m doing everything a lot better.”
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