Grace finds his groove with open­ing-round 66 to lead in Texas


South African Branden Grace had a 6-un­der-par 66 and leads by a stroke af­ter the open­ing round of the Texas Open on Thurs­day.

Grace had a sea­son-best 11th­place fin­ish last week in de­fense of his 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 two shots back at 4 un­der. They in­clude 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 low round. 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 has 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.

“To re­cover af­ter that with a great birdie at 13 and a nice upand-down at 14 for birdie, it was nice to bounce back.”

Ian Poul­ter needs at least to 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 have 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, and he needs to earn $30,624 be­fore the ex­emp­tion ends this week.

De­fend­ing champ Charley Hoff­man, co-leader at the half­way point at the Masters, shot 71 and sits just out­side the top 50.

U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion Cur­tis Luck of Aus­tralia opened his first round as a pro with three bo­geys, but he holed a bunker shot from 75 yards for ea­gle later in his round to help him to a 1-over 73.

EURO­PEAN TOUR: Bubba Wat­son fired a 6-un­der 66 in the first round to take a one-stroke lead at the weather-de­layed Shen­zhen In­ter­na­tional in China.

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 leader board.

“I just made putts today,” Wat­son said. “Most of my swings and most of my shots were re­ally good today, and there were no bad swings in there, so it just made the score bet­ter.”

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