Grace leads Texas Open by 1; Woods has surgery
SAN ANTONIO— South African Branden Grace had a 6-under 66 and leads by a stroke after the opening round of the Valero Texas Open on Thursday.
Grace had a season-best 11th-place finish lastweek in defense of his RBC Heritage title. He leads the 5-under 67s of Steven Alker, Stewart Cink, John Huh and Will MacKenzie at TPC San Antonio. Alker, a journeyman New Zealander who played in the final group of the day, birdied the final three holes.
There are 13 players packed two shots back at 4 under. That includes 2010 U.S. Open champion Graham McDowell and 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup member Brooks Koepka.
Two weeks ago, Grace was over par but still survived the cut at the Masters. He played the weekend in 3 under, and his best scorecard last week at Hilton Head was 68. The 66 on Thursday was his best round since Hawaii in January.
“That’s the one round I was waiting for,” Grace said. “I’ve been shooting the 69s and 70s, but not getting that one lowround. This is nice.”
His day took off with three consecutive birdies mid-round, including a 22-foot putt at the ninth after missing his only fairway of the day.
It almost wasn’t as nice for McDowell, who’s won twice on the PGA Tour since his U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach seven years ago.
“I made bogey at 11 from the middle of the fairway, (and) I ripped it down the middle of the 12th fairway right in the middle of a divot and duffed it out short of the green and made bogey there,” he said.
Ian Poulter needs to at least make the cut to keep his PGA Tour card for the remainder of the season. That’s in doubt now — no birdies until his 17th hole and a 75 has him well outside the top 100. He’s playing on a major medical exemption granted after a foot injury caused him to miss most of last season.
Watson fires 66 in China
SHENZHEN, China — Bubba Watson fired a 6-under 66 in the first round to take a one-stroke lead at theweather-delayed Shenzhen International.
Starting on the 10th hole, Watson bogeyed the 12th but bounced back with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to turn in 34. A birdie at the first hole was then followed by an approach shot to eight feet on the par-5 second, setting up an eagle that sent Watson to the top of the leaderboard.
The South African duo of Dean Burmester and Haydn Porteous was tied for second with Gregory Bourdy of France, German Maximilian Kieffer and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.
U.S.’s Knutzon has 64 for lead
NODA, Japan — Jason Knutzon of the United States fired a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Panasonic Open.
Knutzon offset a lone bogey on the par-4 17th with seven birdies at the Chiba Country Club to finish two strokes ahead of Thailand’s Udorn Duangdecha and Satoshi Kodaira of Japan.
Kim Hyung-sung of South Korea shot 67 and was tied for fourth with compatriot Hur In-hoi, Hiroshi Iwata of Japan and Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat.
More surgery for Woods
One day after saying his back was progressing, Tiger Woods had a fourth back surgery to alleviate pain and will go through another year without playing a major.
The surgery was Wednesday at the Texas Back Institute.
Woods was in Missouri on Tuesday to announce plans to design a public golf course at Big Cedar Lodge, and he even tried hitting a few shots to a par 3. Thefirst one rattled around in the rocks, and the second shot was about 10 feet from the flag.
Asked about his health during the ceremony, Woods said he had good days and bad days. And then he flew to Dallas for fusion surgery to create space in his lower back.
The announcement on his website Thursday said typical recovery from a single-fusion surgery is six months.