LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Former reality television contestant Richy Werenski took advantage of a depleted field to storm into the lead at the PGA Tour’s 3M Open in Minnesota on Thursday with an eight-under-par 63.
Werenski, who secured entry to his first PGA Tour event at the 2015 Barbasol Championship after winning a reality television programme, reeled off nine birdies to lead by one at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, outside Minneapolis.
The 28-year-old, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, seized the lead on the final hole of his round, making a 16-foot birdie putt to go one clear of Michael Thompson, who shot a seven-under-par 64.
Werenski had started slowly, a birdie on the second nullified by a bogey five on the par-four third hole.
But he reeled off consecutive birdies on 5th and 6th holes before rolling in a 28-foot birdie putt on the 7th.
A further birdie on the ninth left Werenski four under at the turn, and four more birdies on the back nine left him alone, at the top of the leaderboard.
Thompson, 35, chasing only his second win on the PGA Tour after victory at the 2013 Honda Classic, carded a bogey-free round which included seven birdies.
Thompson’s flawless round included a 35-foot birdie putt on his sixth hole of the day to move to three under.
Back-to-back birdies coming down the stretch on his 14th and 15th holes left him at seven under.
Seven players are two shots off the pace after carding six-under-par 65s.
That group includes Tony Finau, who went on a blazing run after the turn to move up the leaderboard.
Finau was two under over the front nine after a solid start, but then erupted with five birdies to move into contention.
Finau’s birdie spree included puts of 21 feet, 12 feet and 11 feet. The only blemish was a bogey five on the par-four seventh.
Finau was joined on six under by Ryan Moore, Max Homa, Matthew Wolff, Nick Watney, Bo Hoag and China’s Zhang Xinjun.
Teeing off on the back nine, Zhang, 33, got off to a flying start with an eagle on the par-five 12th, making the green in two and draining a 31-foot putt for a three.
Three more birdies left him at five under at the halfway point, and despite a bogey on his 11th hole, two more birdies left him well-placed at six under.
Most of golf’s elite have skipped this week’s tournament in Minneapolis, and a line-up with only a smattering of star names was further depleted on Thursday when former world number one Dustin Johnson withdrew after shooting a seven-over-par 78.
Johnson pulled out from the remainder of the tournament citing a sore back.