Rickie Fowler shot an eight-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Sung Kang after the first round of the Shell Houston Open.
Fowler, who appears on the latest cover of Compeat Golfer now on sale, had his best round in six appearances at the tournament, topping a previous low score of 68. Fowler overcame damp conditions and a chilly, breezy morning to jump to a hot start.
Fowler won last month at the Honda Classic and is trying to keep momentum going into the Masters next week. The Honda Classic win snapped a 13-month, 25-start drought for Fowler.
Fowler held a three-shot lead over Vaughn Taylor and Keegan Bradley when he finished his round in the afternoon, then Kang closed the gap with his 65. The 29-year-old South Korean missed a putt from less than 5 feet to bogey on 18. Still, compared to last year’s final round at the Houston Open when he shot a six-over 78, he said he was satisfied with the improvement.
Kang is among the 115 players who need a victory to qualify for Augusta National, as Jim Herman did by winning in Houston last year. Among the 144 players in the Houston Open field, 29 already have invitations to play. It would have been 30, except Dustin Johnson decided to take the week off, after winning the Dell Technologies Match Play for his third straight victory.
Behind Fowler and Kang, Stewart Cink, Jhonattan Vegas and Kyle Stanley all shot six-under 66. Jordan Spieth struggled at times and shot three-under 69. Herman shot two-over 74, while 2015 Houston Open winner JB Holmes shot one-over 73.
Three South Africans are in the field. Tyrone van Aswegen shot a three-under 69, Ernie Els a one-under 71 and Retief Goosen a one-over 73.
Kang said he doesn’t want to get too ahead of himself by eyeing a last-minute ticket to Augusta after the first round.
Heavy rains cancelled the pro-am event at the Golf Club of Houston on Wednesday.
The sun dried out the course later in the day, and the greens began to play faster. Several players commented on the balancing act of avoiding the water hazards but also not overplaying the speedy greens, which are designed to mimic Augusta.
Fowler said he was fortunate to not have been too thrown off by the muddy conditions.
‘I felt like I got some good breaks with having mud on the same side where the trouble was, and that I could kind of keep it fairly conservative,’ Fowler said. ‘If the mud was kind of kicking in, it ended up being a good shot.’
Round one of the Shell Houston Open (par-72, USA unless stated):
64 – Rickie Fowler
65 – Kang Sung (KOR)
66 – Stewart Cink, Jhonattan Vegas (VEN), Kyle Stanley
67 – Vaughn Taylor, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose (ENG), Hudson Swafford, Troy Merritt, Russell Henley, Tom Hoge
68 – Harold Varner, Ryan Blaum, Kevin Streelman, Jason Dufner, Aaron Baddeley (AUS), Bryce Molder, Andrew Loupe, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS), Grayson Murray, Billy Horschel, Adam Scott (AUS), D.A. Points, Luke List, Robert Garrigus, Jason Kokrak, Andy Sullivan (ENG), Wesley McClain
Image: Getty Images
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