Crit­ter gives Koepka rough fin­ish

Weekend Herald - - WHAT’S ON - Golf

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 t wo straight bo­geys af­ter shar­ing the lead late in his open­ing round of the AT& T By­ron Nel­son Classic in Dal­las yes­ter­day.

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, it jumped out, scared me. I couldn’t see it be­cause it ran un­der­neath the grass again.”

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.

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, he 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 di­alled 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

Pic­ture / AP

Brooks Koepka blasts out of the ninth holes yes­ter­day af­ter his ball was buried in the rough.

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