Russell Knox, seeking his first PGA Tour title in six years, fired a bogey-free, seven-under-par 65 on Friday to seize the first-round lead at the Texas Open.
The 36-year-old from Scotland reeled off four consecutive birdies on the back nine at TPC San Antonio to grab a one-stroke lead over Denmark’s Rasmus Hojgaard.
England’s Aaron Rai and Americans Matt Kuchar, Denny McCarthy and JJ Spaun shared third on 67.
“Thrilled with the round,” said Knox, who set an early target and remained atop the board when the day ended. “I took care of business off the tee, which was nice.”
Knox, ranked 169th, shared sixth at the Players Championship earlier this month, his best showing of the season.
He’s not qualified for the Masters but would secure a spot at Augusta National next week with a victory.
“I would love to win and get to play next week,” Knox said. “It would be the biggest bonus of the year. But I’m quite happy to sit on the couch with my dog next week, too. I say that, but I’m going to try my hardest to finish first this week.”
Knox won the 2015 WGC Shanghai title, the 2016 PGA Travelers Championship and his most recent title at the 2018 Irish Open on the DP World Tour.
Knox birdied the first hole after dropping his approach inside three feet, sank a 13-foot birdie putt at the 5th and chipped in a 60-foot birdie effort at the par-three 7th. He also chipped within inches of the cup for par saves at six and nine.
“Just a couple of those good luck moments starting the round got my momentum nice,” Knox said. “Those were the key parts that allowed me to kind of settle into the back nine and have some easier birdies.”
Knox began his birdie run with an eight-foot putt at the 12th and added a seven-footer at the par-three 13th, a bunker blast to two feet and tap-in at the par-five 14th and a 17-foot putt from the fringe at 15.
“That was one of those kind of bonus birdies that you need when you’re going to have a good day,” Knox said of his final birdie. “It’s nice. I’ve practised hard and I’m starting to see some benefits.”
Hojgaard, who started on the back nine, was in a position to snag the early lead before closing with a double-bogey at the 9th.
“It was the best I’ve putted for a long time and that just builds some confidence,” Hojgaard said. “I felt I could be aggressive on the greens.”
The 21-year-old Dane made five birdies and an eagle in an eight-hole span from the 12th through 1st, rolled in a 37-foot birdie putt at the 6th but was way left off the par-four 9th tee and needed five to reach the green to fall behind Knox.
“That was a bit annoying, but it happens,” Hojgaard said.
Hojgaard has won three times on the DP World Tour, most recently at last year’s European Masters.
© Agence France-Presse