WASHINGTON (AFP) – Unheralded alternate Nate Lashley, the last player in the field, fired a nine-under-par 63 to seize a one-stroke lead after yesterday’s opening round of the US PGA Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The 36-year-old American, ranked 353rd in the world, birdied five of the last six holes to shoot the low round of his brief PGA career to stand on nine-under par after 18 holes at Detroit Golf Club.
“I’m just trying to play relaxed and confident golf,” Lashley said. “Game feels good. Hopefully I can continue this through the week.”
Americans Ryan Armour and Nick Watney shared second on 64 with Americans Charles Howell, Talor Gooch, Chez Reavie, Stewart Cink, Adam Schenk and Chase Wright plus Slovakian Rory Sabbatini on 65.
Lashley, playing this season on a medical extension after a knee injury last year as a rookie, only took the last spot in the field of 156 after David Berganio withdrew on Wednesday. Last week in Hartford, Lashley was atop the alternate list but missed out.
“When you’re first alternate, it’s not a whole lot of fun, that feeling of only missing getting in the event by a spot, by one person,” Lashley said.
Lashley’s tour status for next season hangs by a thread with only a few weeks remaining in the campaign, ranked 132nd in points, seven places adrift from a secure spot.
“Hopefully I can play well this week, continue to play well, lock up my card and go from there,” Lashley said.
His lone top-10 PGA finish came with a share of eighth at February’s Puerto Rico Open. He shared 28th two weeks ago in the US Open at Pebble Beach in his major debut and hopes to take one of two available spots here this week for next month’s British Open in Northern Ireland.
Lashley opened and closed the front nine with birdies and sank a 36-foot putt at the sixth on his way to making the turn at four-under.
His closing birdie run included birdie putts from 14 feet at 16 and eight feet at the par-5 17th and par-4 18th holes.
“I got it under the hole in most cases and was able to knock it in the holes without a lot of breaks,” Lashley said. “I made a lot of really nice putts out there.
“Just trying to come out here and play golf and see what happens. If I can continue to play like this I’ll be just fine.”
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and South Korea’s An Byeong-Hun were in a pack sharing 32nd on 68.
Gary Woodland, an American who won his first major title at the US Open earlier this month, opened on 73 while world number two Dustin Johnson, another long-driving US star, fired 71.