Hahn, Barnes out front in Texas

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS -

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 two bo­geys in a row af­ter shar­ing the lead late in his open­ing round of the AT&T By­ron Nel­son on Thurs­day.

A year af­ter los­ing to Ser­gio Gar­cia in a play­off at TPC Four Sea­sons, Koepka set­tled for a 3-un­der-par 67 and trailed colead­ers 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, whether 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, the No. 6 player com­pet­ing in his home­town event.

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 con­sec­u­tive birdie on his 17th hole, the par-4 eighth. Nor­mally one of the best put­ters on tour, the Dal­las na­tive was frus­trated with that part of his game af­ter miss­ing the cut in The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship last week.

“It’s noth­ing crazy new,” Spi­eth said. “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.”

James Hahn had six birdies in the first round of the By­ron Nel­son on Thurs­day. RAY CAR­LIN, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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