Australian Greg Chalmers made the most of a new driver on Thursday by shooting a five-under-par 66 to seize a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the US PGA National.
The $US6.5 million ($A7 million) event at Congressional Country Club is better known for 14-time major winner Tiger Woods making his comeback following three months off after back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve.
But while Woods languished at 74, Chalmers birdied his last three holes to stand one stroke ahead of American Ricky Barnes and Sweden’s Freddie Jacobson and two shots clear of South African Tyrone van Aswegan and Americans Erik Compton, Patrick Reed and Bill Haas, the defending champion.
“I put in a new driver this week. It’s going really well,” Chalmers said. “I really drove the ball the best I’ve driven it all year. That was exciting and that set up the rest of the round.
“I’m really pleased. That gave me a lot of confidence and I fed off that. Finishing with three straight birdies is always nice.”
It was an impressive first day for the Australian contingent, with Stuart Appleby, Geoff Ogilvy and Marc Leishman all shooting one-under-par 70s to be in contention – four shots behind Chalmers.
Matt Every fired an even-par 71, while Robert Allenby closed one-over with a 72.
Other Australians did not fare so well, Jason Day and Steven Bowditch struggling with 73s and Aaron Baddeley five-over on 76.
Starting off the 10th tee, Chalmers ended with birdies of six feet at the seventh and three feet at eight and nine, dropping his approaches with precision on the challenging 7569-yard layout.
“Putting is a strength to my game, but it’s part of the game that you need to do well if you want to be successful,” Chalmers said. “If I have a day like today, where I strike the ball well, I can shoot a low number.”
Chalmers is trying to become the seventh Australian to win a US PGA Tour event this season, a run started by sixth-ranked Day at the WGC Match Play in February and lasting through world No.1 Adam Scott’s victory last month at Colonial.
In between came victories for John Senden, Every, Bowditch and Matt Jones.
Now it could be time for Chalmers, who has spent 16 seasons trying to secure his first US PGA triumph. But he’s not ready to start looking that far ahead just yet.
“There’s a long way to go,” Chalmers said. “I had a really nice day, and I’m proud of that and that’s great.
“How that transpires into the rest of the week is what matters. By the time I get on the tee tomorrow, there’s a chance I’ll be three or four behind. It’s nice at the moment but it doesn’t mean a whole lot.”