IRVING, Texas – When the par putt dropped for Jeff Overton on the second hole early in the Byron Nelson Championship, things suddenly seemed to be going in the right direction for him again.
“That broke a lot and I thought I missed it, and it actually went in,” Overton said about the 10-footer on the 220-yard par-3 hole. “And next thing, I was able to hit a lot of great shots and strike out early. I never had a chance of making bogey from there. “
Overton went on to a bogey-free 6-under 64 on Thursday to take the first-round lead at the Nelson, a stroke better than Ryan Palmer.
After that breaker on No. 2, Overton made consecutive birdies. He then started his back nine with four birdies in a seven-hole stretch for his best score in 15 career rounds at the Nelson, even after his 22-foot birdie try on the closing hole lipped out.
Among his three runner-up finishes last season, when Overton was on the Ryder Cup team, was at the Nelson.
“It’s nice having confidence because of last year,” Overton said. “I knew I played well. I just wanted to keep things rolling.”
Sergio Garcia, who withdrew from a British Open qualifier this week and didn’t even play a practice round at TPC Four Seasons because of an infected fingernail on his left hand, was in a group of nine players two strokes back after opening 66s.
The infection on Garcia’s ring finger made it difficult to grip a club. His finger was sore a few days ago that he thought he might not even be able to play.
How about this for a cure for Garcia? Antibiotic cream, draining the infection, seeing the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and an opening eagle.
“It’s funny how golf is sometimes. Yeah, rarely practice at all and then we get there,” Garcia said about holing a sand wedge from 116 yards on his first hole, the 418-yard 10th. “I hit it and I saw guys on the green saying ‘In’ and I thought, ‘Perfect!’ I couldn’t have started in a better way.”
Garcia, the 2004 Nelson champion who hasn’t won since 2008, had only one bogey.
The TPC greens were pelted by hail described as half the size of baseballs during storms Tuesday night. Crews worked on the greens before and after a pro-am Wednesday.
During the opening round Thursday, players were allowed to treat hail damage as a ball mark that they could repair. They also took advantage of lift, clean and place being in effect because of potential damage to other areas of the course.
Garcia said he fixed several divots on every hole, but said the greens were OK.
Dustin Johnson, who played with Garcia, was in the group at 66 along with Jeff Quinney, Scott Piercy, Will Strickler, Chris Riley, Josh Teater, Joe Ogilvie and Keegan Bradley.
Overton has made the cut in all but one of his previous 13 tournaments this season, but has finished better than 20th only once. That was sixth at the Honda Classic in March, and he’s had his missed cut and finished no better than 26th since then.
“I hope this is the beginning of a good streak for me,” Overton said. “I’ve been hitting it really well the last three or four weeks, just have not made my putts all year.”
Palmer has made the cut only once in his seven previous Nelson appearances. This week, he is using a new set of irons and letting his caddie, James Edmondson, call all his shots.
“All I did is get on each tee and waited until he told me what to do. He told me what side of the tee box to get on, and what side he wanted me to be on, what target he wanted me to hit, and it was my job to hit the shot,” Palmer said. “I think there is something there because I was really relaxed and calm and at ease. It came easy, it seemed like.”
The greens weren’t any problem for Johnson. His double bogey on his second hole, the 329-yard 11th, came after he hooked his drive into the water going for the green and then hit his fourth shot over the green.
He was bogey-free the rest of the round, starting with a 21-foot birdie at No. 12 and a 22-footer at No. 14. His six birdie putts averaged more than 19 feet each – the shortest was 8 with a long of 35 feet.
Johnson, who has finished second- and third-place finishes this season, was under par for the eighth time in his last nine rounds at the Nelson.
“The greens were great, so, you know, I got to give props to the grounds crew,” Johnson said. “They did a really good job of getting the greens ready, especially after that hail storm. You’ve definitely got to give them a hand.”
DIVOTS: K.J. Choi, who won The Players Championship two weeks ago before skipping Colonial last week, shot a 71 with four bogeys while playing with Garcia and Johnson. … Defending champion Jason Day shot a 72 that included a double bogey and four bogeys. … Local amateur teenager Jordan Spieth, who last year was in contention on the final day at the Nelson, opened with a 69, overcoming a double bogey and three bogeys to shoot under par.