Ricky Barnes’ 64 was two strokes better than several other low-scoring morning rounds – then held up against a barrage of low scores among the afternoon groups to give the veteran a one-stroke lead Thursday at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Tianlang Guan, two weeks removed from his first appearance at the Masters, made his second PGA Tour appearance – and the 14-year-old from China did not disappoint.
From Stephen Ames to Boo Weekley, here are 5 Things to know about the opening round of the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana in Avondale:
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1. BARNES STORMS AHEAD: His best career PGA Tour finish coming in 2009, Ricky Barnes has given himself a chance to win his first tournament with an 8 under opening round – thanks in large part to four straight birdies from Nos. 13-16.
Barnes eagled No. 2 to kick start his day, with a birdie at No. 4 and a bogey at No. 6 giving him a front nine of 2 under. Then he caught one heck of a tailwind, with birdies at Nos. 11 and 18 bookending his hot streak.
When he turned pro in 2003 out of Arizona, Barnes was hailed as a potential great player. His most notable career finish, perhaps, has been a tie for second in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage.
Thursday’s 64 is his best round of the year, a stroke better than 65s at the Sony Open and the Humana Challenge.
The mark stood up to 65s posted by Lucas Glover and Boo Weekley in the afternoon. They’re tied for second, one stroke ahead of D.A. Points and Morgan Hoffmann.
Barnes will tee off at noon Friday.
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2. GUAN GOES FOR PAR: Tianlang Guan has done right by his sponsor exemption so far, finishing the first round even for the day.
Guan can thank his 5-wood for getting him back to level par, as he hit it to a foot on the par-3 17th and tapped in for a needed birdie; Guan had bogeyed the par-4 16th. The bogey-birdie swing was his second of the day, having done the same at the 6th and 7th.
Guan often reached the green in regulation, but was far from steady tee-to-green. Yet his strong short game kept him from being embarrassed.
Two weeks ago, Guan tied for 58th at the Masters – he had earned an invitation by winning the Asian amateur – and at 14 is the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta National.
Guan said Thursday that he will play in a U.S. Open qualifier in Dallas in two weeks.
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3. ROUGH DAY TO BE CHAMP: It’s usually a good thing when a PGA Tour golfer posts a 70, but when it’s six shots out of the lead it requires patience. That’s what defending champ Jason Dufner might need Friday to gain ground on the lead.
Dufner played both nines at 1 under, bogey-free from Nos. 10-18 with a birdie at No. 16 then making two birdies and a bogey on his back nine.
Again, a fine round, yet it pales in comparison when the lead is 8 under and 70 is only good for T-36.
Then there’s 2011 champ Bubba Watson, whose 1-over 73 is far from nightmarish yet has him at T-106.
Watson bogeyed No. 10 to start his day, then bogeyed again three holes later. He got back to even par with bogeys at Nos. 16 and 2 before bogeying No. 3 to settle at his eventual score.
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4. BETTER DAY TO BE HOFFMAN(N): Morgan Hoffmann was having a nondescript round at 3 under, at least judging by the bell curve set by Barnes’ 64, when suddenly he vaulted himself into an eventual tie for fourth on the strength of carding three straight birdies – twice.
Hoffmann started his day with eight straight pars before birdieing No. 18 as he made the turn – then followed with two more at Nos. 1-2. He posted three more pars before birdieing Nos. 6-8 and parred his final hole of the day.
Hoffmann hasn’t won on the PGA Tour or the Web.com Tour since turning pro two years ago out of Oklahoma State. His best PGA Tour finish is a T-14 in this year’s Puerto Rico Open.
His near namesake, Charley Hoffman, had a back-and-forth day but never was over par. Back-to-back birdies at Nos. 11-12 outweighed his bogey on No. 15 as he finished 1 under, good for T-58, but possibly needing to be improved upon to avoid the cut line.
Hoffman has been on a roll of late but needed the under-par round to put his final-round 77 last week at the RBC Heritage behind him. He still posted his second straight top-10 finish at the Heritage, which was his third of the season. He has only missed two cuts in nine starts this season.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Wet conditions caused by heavy rains Wednesday led to players using lift-clean-and-place rules in the fairway for the first round. . . . The fashionable score for the day was 67, with 10 players finishing at 5 under. Among them: Stephen Ames, who netted four straight birdies to cap a string of six out of seven on Nos. 2-8, and Billy Horschel, who looks good to continue the Tour’s longest active cuts-made streak. . . . Fifteen players were another shot back, shooting 68. . . . Monday qualifiers fared well, as two-time U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen was the only one on the wrong side of par (1-over 73).