Thursday’s golf: Leishman shoots 61 at Byron Nelson
Dallas — Marc Leishman enjoyed the old home of the AT&T Byron Nelson as much as anyone, considering he made the last nine trips there and had one of the best scoring averages in tournament history.
The Australian might take a liking to the new place as well.
Leishman shot a 10-under 61 on the links-style Trinity Forest course to take the first-round lead Thursday and was eight shots clear of hometown star Jordan Spieth in the event that returned to Dallas after 35 years at the TPC Four Seasons in suburban Irving.
Considering the criticisms of Trinity Forest from others — mentioned vaguely by players who did show up — Leishman wouldn’t have needed much to join that chorus after a history of high finishes in Irving despite a couple of recent missed cuts.
Instead, Leishman opened with an eagle, started the back nine with three straight birdies and reached 9 under with another eagle at the 14th.
The 34-year-old, a three-time PGA Tour winner, had chances to go lower but settled for a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th for the lowest round of his PGA Tour career. He was a stroke shy of the Nelson record.
“Probably would have been the harshest critic, I think,” Leishman said with a smile. “I played very well over there. When I got here and saw instantly, you know, was happy that we’re here and it’s just a cool spot.”
J.J. Spaun and Texan Jimmy Walker were three shots back at 64. Spaun had six birdies in a span of seven holes for a 30 on his second nine — the front nine on the undulating layout with no trees or water hazards a few miles south of downtown Dallas.
Walker had a chance to get to 8 under when his shot from the edge of a fairway bunker on 18 rolled within a foot of the cup before settling 14 feet away. He missed the birdie putt.
Sam Saunders, Aaron Wise and Keith Mitchell shot matching 65s playing in the first group off the first tee. They were part of an eight-way tie four shots behind Leishman. Defending champion Billy Horschel shot 68.
Spieth, one of just two world top-10 players in the Nelson field at No. 3, didn’t have many chances and missed on some of the few that he did, starting with a short birdie putt for a disappointing par 5 on the opening hole.
It was another frustrating round for the 24-year-old Spieth, a Trinity Forest member who was hoping the venue change would help him top his best Nelson finish. That was a tie for 16th when he was a 16-year-old amateur playing for a private high school in Dallas.
Spieth had just three birdies when the course was at its easiest because of calm winds. His bogey on the short par-4 fifth came after he drove the green and then sent an 82-foot putt off it.
“Looking back the last year and a half I’ve had maybe four, five opportunities where I’ve actually been in a tournament after the first round which is really frustrating,” Spieth said. “Thursdays for whatever reason just haven’t been good days for me.”
Saunders, Wise and Mitchell each opened with a birdie as the first to tee off on the par-5 first. Saunders had the most birdies of the trio with eight, Wise had seven and Mitchell had a bogey-free round.
The grandson of the late Arnold Palmer, Saunders played Trinity Forest before the Nelson last year and made up his mind then he would return for the debut.
“I think it’s a very fair test of golf,” said Saunders, who missed the cut at the last two Nelsons in Irving. “There was a lot of thought put into all the slopes out there. You’ve got to think your way through it a little bit more than some of the courses we play.”
Horschel said he didn’t do enough thinking after losing the momentum of an eagle at the par-5 14th on his front nine with bogeys at 16 and 18, both par 4s. And yes, he said they still count as mental mistakes even though he and most of the field don’t know the course very well.
“It’s stupid idiot errors,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s knowing what I shouldn’t do and it’s just me trying to get greedy. I know better than that on certain shots.”
With a forecast of stronger winds and temperatures in the mid-90s on Friday, Trinity Forest figures to play a little tougher after 103 players broke par in its debut. Spieth will be surprised by a repeat of Leishman’s number.
“Looking at the forecast, I don’t think that will happen again,” Spieth said. “I’m excited there’s wind. I wish it was windy every day. I really struggled when there’s been no wind compared to the field this year and today was no different.”
And all too familiar for Spieth in front of the home folks.
Annie Park turned a blistering stretch on the back nine into a mistake-free 6-under 65 and a share of the first-round lead on a crowded leaderboard in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the Kingsmill Championship.
Jessica Korda, Azahara Munoz, In Gee Chun and Jaye Marie Green also shot 65. Park, Korda and Munoz played morning rounds in mild conditions, while Chun and Green played in rain that is expected to also be a factor Friday and Saturday on the resort’s already-soggy River Course.
Park, playing in just her third tour event of the season and seeking her first career victory, was 2 under when she hit the flag and birdied the par 4 14th hole. She then nearly holed her second shot on the par-5 15th after hitting “an OK 3-wood” that left her with a short eagle putt, and also birdied the par-4 16th.
“Overall, I had a great day,” she said. “I hit some good shots. Lucky enough, I had some short birdie putts, short eagle putt, and that helps.”
Munoz had seven birdies and one bogey, and Korda and Chun were bogey-free. Green had seven birdies and bogeyed No. 18.
Munoz earned her only tour win in 2012, and settled in after starting with a bogey.
“I hit so many good shots,” she said. “Gave myself a lot of opportunities. Made some really nice putts.”
She also chipped in for her final birdie after missing the green to the left on the par-4 eighth hole.
“I made a really nice chip. It was a bit too firm, but it was really nice,” she said.
Korda, the winner of the Honda LPGA Thailand in February in her return from reconstructive jaw surgery, is making just her seventh start of the season and has finished in the top 10 in four of them. She had three birdies on each nine, including the par-4 18th.
Korda is one of 11 winners on tour this season, and no one has won more than once. The past few weeks, she’s been fine-tuning her game to be ready for the Women’s U.S. Open at the end of the month in Alabama.
“My transition hasn’t been great. A lot of people have asked me why I was hitting it so short in (San Francisco), and I was just trying to hit it into the fairway because I just wasn’t feeling great over the ball,” she said. “So just trying to tighten up some things before the U.S. Open comes around. Hopefully just keeps going the way that it is.”
Chun is making just her seventh start of the season, and Green has missed four of eight cuts.
Nasa Hataoka and 2016 winner Ariya Jutanugarn were one back. Hataoka’s bogey-free round included an ace at the par-3 17th. It was her first as a professional. There were nine more at 67, including 2015 champion Minjee Lee.
Cristie Kerr, whose three victories make her the only multiple winner at Kingsmill, opened with a 71, and defending champion Lexi Thompson, who set a tournament record last year at 20-under 264, was in a tie for 49th with Michelle Wie and numerous others after a 70.
Miguel Angel Jimenez shot an 8-under 64 at Birmingham, Alabama, to take the first-round lead in the Regions Tradition, the first of the PGA Tour Champions’ five major championships.
Jimenez birdied the first four holes in a front-nine 30 at Greystone Golf & Country Club. The Spaniard took the outright lead with a short birdie putt on No. 13 after a rain delay of 1 hour, 17 minutes.
Gene Sauers, Wes Short Jr., Jerry Kelly and Joe Durant were second at 66.
Two-time defending champion Bernhard Langer closed with a birdie for a 70. He has a record 10 senior major title.
The round began with an early two-tee start to try to beat the rain that started pouring around lunchtime.