As darkness set in Thursday evening in Memphis, Ben Crane rolled home a 27-foot birdie putt at the par-4 18th to card an opening-round, 7-under 63 and take the clubhouse lead at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Crane needed only 24 putts in his first round at TPC Southwind and he made five of his seven birdies on the back nine after a 3 1/2-hour weather delay left scoring conditions ideal. He is searching for his first top 10 since the Humana Challenge in January and has missed five of his last seven cuts.
Peter Malnati and Billy Horschel are tied for second at 5 under. Horschel is one of 60 players who weren’t able to complete their first rounds.
Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka were also in the top 10 when darkness set in Thursday.
Here are 5 other things that you need to know:
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1. NOT A FLOP: Phil Mickelson may have pulled off another one of his signature flop shots to perfection Thursday, but Lefty wasn’t a flop in the opening round.
Mickelson carded a 3-under 67, a round that included an impressive up-and-down par at the par-3 fourth hole in which Mickelson’s tee shot took a bad bounce off a sprinkler head and he executed a difficult flop shot for his second shot.
He also made five birdies, four of which came after he stuck his approach shot inside of 9 feet. His final birdie of the day, at the par-4 18th, came on a 12-foot putt.
“I’m trying to take a little more time behind the shot, doing a better job visualizing the shot,” Mickelson told PGATour.com. “The thing that’s really helped me, I’ve been more creative, curving the ball more with the irons to try to get it close to the hole rather than just hitting a stock shot without curvature.”
Mickelson, who next week will attempt to win his first U.S. Open title after six second-place finishes, is still searching for his first top-10 finish on Tour this season.
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2. TURNAROUND ROUND: Peter Malnati’s first season on the PGA Tour hasn’t exactly been what he’d hoped for. He’s missed eight of 11 cuts this season, and seven of his last eight.
But he’s in the hunt early in Memphis thanks to a 5-under 65 Thursday.
Malnati made just one bogey, at the par-4 17th, and six birdies, including two in his final three holes. He had the clubhouse lead for most of the afternoon and early evening until Ben Crane turned in a 63.
The 65 tied Malnati’s best round on Tour. He also fired a 65 in the final round of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba last fall.
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3. FREDDIE’S FINAL CHANCE: Freddie Jacobsen pulled out of his U.S. Open sectional qualifier Monday, opting to instead try and earn his Open berth via the Official World Golf Ranking.
Jacobsen entered this week ranked 79th in the OWGR and will likely need to finish T-2 or better at TPC Southwind to get into the top 60, which would secure him a spot in the field next week at Pinehurst.
He got off to a good start Thursday, making four birdies and just one bogey en route to an opening-round 3-under 67.
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4. OPEN DOOR SHUTTING: Retief Goosen has won two U.S. Open titles in his career, his second coming in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills. That victory earned him a 10-year exemption into the Open, an exemption that ends this year at Pinehurst.
For what could be the 45-year-old’s final U.S. Open, he appears to be ready. Goosen is looking for his sixth straight made cut of the season this week in Memphis, and his second top 10 – he tied for seventh at the Shell Houston Open.
Thursday, he made five birdies on his front nine – TPC Southwind’s back nine – and finished with a 4-under 66, which ties his best first round of the season.
“I wish I was 20 years younger, but that is never going to happen,” Goosen said. “My back is feeling probably the best now it has felt for probably six, seven years.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Play was suspended for three hours and 30 minutes due to inclement weather, leaving 60 players to finish their opening rounds at 7 a.m. Friday. . . . Billy Horschel is 5 under through 16 holes after Thursday as he has the best round going of the players still with rounds in progress. . . . Brooks Koepka’s 3-under 67 is his best round on Tour since the third round of the Frys.com Open last fall. Koepka hasn’t made a Tour start since the OHL Classic in November. . . . Robert Garrigus withdrew after shooting 79, citing a wrist injury.