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Thursday's golf: Russell Knox takes 1st-round lead in Mayakoba Golf Classic

Associated Press

Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Russell Knox shot a 6-under 65 on Thursday at breezy and wet El Camaleon Golf Club to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic.

The 35-year-old Scot birdied five of the last six holes on his opening nine, then played the final nine in 1 under with a bogey on the par-4 second and birdies on the par-5 fifth and par-4 sixth. 

Russell Knox

“Took me a few holes to kind of settle into my round, but when I did, I had six or seven very good holes,” Knox said. “I hit the ball well, drove it in the fairway, and with lift, clean and place, I could be fairly aggressive. Par was good today.”

Chile’s Joaquin Niemann was a stroke back with Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and American Tom Hoge. Niemann is donating his entire prize money and $5,000 for every birdie and $10,000 for an eagle to help pay for a drug for his 2-month-old relative in Chile. 

“I’m playing for Rafita, that is one of my cousins that was diagnosed a couple days ago with a really rare disease,” the 22-year-old Niemann said. “All the guys here on tour are being really nice, using the little ribbons we’re having to support Rafita. He’s fighting now in Chile, so we’ve got to work our way to help him.”

Niemann also finished on the front nine, making birdies on Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 7.

“It was tough,” Niemann said. “It was hard to adjust myself into the wind early, but I’m really happy the way I played. Took me a couple holes to like figure it out a little bit with the wind. I’m really happy the way I played and the way I finished.”

Knox has two victories on the PGA Tour and one on the European Tour. He lost in a playoff at Mayakoba in 2016.

“I guess it’s the tequila and tacos,” Knox said. “Obviously, I love the course. It sets up well for me. I mean, historically, my driving accuracy and iron play’s been my strength, so that’s kind of the key things that this course brings out in you.”

He liked the wind better than the rain-softened turf.

“I always kind of want it to be a little windy,” Knox said. “I feel like I can flight my ball well at times. But it’s so soft out here, it’s the opposite of like links golf. No, I’m thrilled with that and look forward to trying again tomorrow.”

Carlos Ortiz, the Mexican star playing for the first time as a PGA Tour winner, was two strokes back at 67. He won the Houston Open a week before the Masters and did not play at Sea Island.

“When I made like a 60-footer for eagle on 5, I knew it was going to be a pretty good day,” Ortiz said. “I was in control of my game. It’s one of those where you hit a good drive, it kind of sits down in the fairway and you feel like you’re going to get a flyer and it’s going to come out soft, but I’m really happy the way I played.”

Defending champion Brendon Todd also was at 67 with Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, Aaron Wise, Nate Lashley, Akshay Bhatia and Michael Gligic.

Former U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, the low amateur at the Masters, had a 69 in his pro debut. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker also shot 69.

Rickie Fowler had a wild round of 70 with eight birdies and quadruple and double bogeys. He played the final six holes in 4 under to get under par. 

“This has to be the lowest I’ve shot with a quad,” Fowler said. “That doesn’t happen a whole lot.”

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka had a 71. Justin Thomas shot 72. At No. 3, he’s the only player from the top 10 in the world in the field.

LPGA

Charley Hull fought through cold and windy conditions to take the first-round lead in the LPGA Tour’s Volunteers of America Classic.

The 24-year-old Englishwoman shot a 3-under 69, making six birdies and three bogeys at Old American Golf Club with the afternoon temperature only climbing into the high 40s.

“I think I’m going to go to the supermarket and get a thick woolly coat,” Hull said.

She birdied Nos. 6 and 7 to reach 4 under, then bogeyed the par-4 eighth and closed the round with a par on the par-4 ninth.

“The golf course is playing so much different than it did last year,” Hull said. “It’s playing a lot longer, which I prefer. I struggled swinging the last two holes, I just got so cold. Along that lake you just get like freezing.”

Jessica Korda, Jennifer Kupcho and Pornanong Phatlum were a stroke back in the final event before the U.S. Women’s Open next week at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

“I’m just going to go warm up my toes because we lost feeling in them by like the second hole,” Korda said. “We did, all of us.”

She closed with a bogey.

“Honestly, I was just trying to stay warm,” Korda said. “It was just really tough trying to figure out the wind, cold, wind and the cold. But happy with 2 under.”

She also was thinking about a warm coat.

“I mean, I might not wear a parka, but I don’t know, we’ll see what it looks like,” Korda said. “Honestly, for me, the most important thing, being from Florida, I need to stay warm.”

Texan Brittany Lang was at 70 with fellow area resident Gerina Piller, Anna Nordqvist, Megan Khang and Ally Ewing.

“I usually don’t feel that good in cold weather, but since I’m staying at home I have so much warm stuff,” Lang said. “I feel like I was so prepared for the weather. I played great, but I have all my heat packs and I have my fleece and everything. I just felt like I really wasn’t that cold, which was key.”

Jin Young Ko, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, opened with a 70. She tied for 34th two weeks ago in her first LPGA Tour event of the year.

Defending champion Cheyenne Knight also shot 70.

So Yeon Ryu opened with a 72 in her first U.S. event on the LPGA Tour since the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship last year.

Jeongeun Lee, the defending Women’s Open champion, had a 73.

Sixteen players were unable to complete the round because of darkness.

European Tour

Christiaan Bezuidenhout started his chase for back-to-back wins on the European Tour with a 5-under 67 to sit in a six-way tie for the lead after the first round of the South African Open.

The South African made five birdies in his opening nine holes and had just one dropped shot at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City resort. He shares the lead with Mattias Schwab of Austria, Aron Zemmer of Italy and fellow South Africans Dean Burmester, Jacques Kruyswijk and Ruan Corb.

The course is normally home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at this time of year but that event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bezuidenhout won the Alfred Dunhill Championship last weekend to move up to ninth in the Race to Dubai money list.

Dylan Frittelli, who made a name for himself by being in contention at the Masters this year and finishing tied for fifth, is one shot off the pace at the South African Open after his 68. He led at one point but made three bogeys on his back nine. He’s joined by Matthieu Pavon at 4 under.