Erik van Rooyen is one shot behind leader Austin Smotherman after shooting a first-round 64 at the Mexico Open on Thursday.
Van Rooyen began his day with four birdies in his first seven holes before making a bogey on the par-four 8th.
The South African added another birdie on No 14 before holing out from 137 yards for an eagle on the next hole. He said he hit pitching wedge and just “went straight at it.”
“You don’t really plan on holing out from 137, so when it happens it’s pretty sweet,” said Van Rooyen, who had earlier been attacked by a swarm of bees on the 10th hole.
Meanwhile, Smotherman closed with four consecutive birdies to fire an eight-under par 64.
The 28-year-old American is chasing his second Mexico Open title and first PGA victory, having captured his first professional title at the 2018 Mexico Open when the event was part of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica developmental circuit.
The tournament became a main PGA Tour event last year and was won by Spain’s Jon Rahm, the world No 1 and defending champion who captured his second Major title three weeks ago at the Masters.
Argentina’s Tano Goya also carded 64 to share second spot with Van Rooyen.
American Tony Finau, who shared second behind Rahm last year, headlined a group on 65 that also included Canada’s Taylor Pendrith, American Eric Cole, Germany’s Stephan Jaeger and Mexico’s Raul Pereda.
“Nice little finish,” Smotherman said. “Just feeling good. I feel like my game’s in a good spot.”
World No 342 Smotherman, who began on the back nine, unleashed a birdie run with putts from just inside 12 feet at the par-five 12th, nine feet at the par-three 13th and a two-putt birdie from 25 feet at the par-five 14th.
“Just super steady. Then I made a few of those 10-, 12-footers early part of the round,” said Smotherman.
At the par-four 3rd, Smotherman drove into a waste area left of the fairway, then dropped his approach inches from the hole and tapped in for birdie.
“Stole that one on 3,” he said. “I hit it to a foot out of that left waste area. Had a little full pitching wedge knocked down a little bit and kick-in birdie there was nice.”
Smotherman blasted out of a bunker to just outside 13 feet and made the birdie putt at the par-five 6th then escaped the greenside sand to five feet to birdie 7. After rolling in a birdie from just outside eight feet at the 8th, he dropped a 37-foot birdie putt at the par-three 9th to end his day.
Smotherman’s only career top-10 PGA finish in 43 events was eighth at last year’s Barracuda Championship.
His four-stroke victory over Mexico’s Juan Pablo Hernandez five years ago was a breakthrough triumph, putting his name among such past winners as Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, David Graham and Roberto De Vicenzo.
“Still get a little bit of some goosebumps thinking about it, for sure,” he said. “Winning an event like that, which has such a deep history. There are names on that trophy that are in the Hall of Fame. A national open anywhere is very special.”
Defending champion Rahm shot 67 to stand four back of Smotherman.
“It’s a good score, I’m happy with the score,” Rahm said. “Those first 13 holes we had virtually no wind, about as easy conditions as it can get. I wish I would have taken advantage of it more.”
Rahm closed with a 25-foot birdie putt to finish four-under on the back nine.
“I was rolling it really well all day, so to finish it off that way, obviously it always feels like you’re stealing one from the field,” Rahm said.
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