Buckle leads Fresh Express Classic after one-putts on last seven greens

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Australian Andrew Buckle one-putted his final seven holes Thursday to post a 6-under 64 and take the first-round lead at the Nationwide Tour’s Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae. The 28-year-old from Brisbane grabbed a one-shot lead over veterans Patrick Sheehan and Marco Dawson as well as Monday qualifier Russell Knox.

Kyle Thompson, Ken Duke, Won Joon Lee, Doug LaBelle II and Geoffrey Sisk share ffth place, two shots back.

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2011 FRESH EXPRESS CLASSIC

This is the third straight year the Nationwide Tour has played in Hayward, Calif., and the second in a row with Fresh Express as the title sponsor.

Tournament host Jerry Rice, playing as a professional for the second year in a row, saw his day take a wrong turn when he stumbled with a double, triple and quadruple bogey in a five-hole stretch midway through his round and had to settle for a disappointing 81. Rice was started play on the back nine and was 1 under after seven holes, but gave seven shots back to par on his next three holes, highlighted by a double bogey at No. 18 and a quadruple bogey on No. 1.

“I was not striking the ball that well but I was finding a way to get up-and-down,” he said. “Then I started striking the ball okay and I started sticking my chest out a little bit. After I made the birdie I thought ‘I might do okay today’ but then reality set in.”

The former San Francisco 49er wide receiver wound up with a triple bogey at the par-4 third hole thanks to a lost ball tee shot. He missed a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole.

“I had three holes that really did me in. It was a little bit of a struggle but I had fun,” he said. “Overall, I fought through some adversity today. I feel better because toward the end of today I started striking the ball better and made some corrections. I wanted to leave on a good note. I would have preferred a birdie there at nine, but I hit the putt with a little too much speed.”

With morning temperatures hovering in the mid-40s, Buckle went out early and slowly moved atop the leaderboard. 

“I really wasn’t paying attention and was playing nice on the back nine and suddenly I was 7 under,” said Buckle, who reeled off four consecutive birdies starting at No. 14 to set the pace. “Everything was pretty solid today and I got on a good run there at the end.”

Buckle looked in good shape to add to his lead at the 438-yard 18th hole, but his second shot sailed well over the 18th green and he was fortunate to make a bogey to close his day.

“I was in the fairway and just hit the wrong club. I hit 6 and probably should have hit 7,” he said. “I didn’t commit to it and then pulled it.”

His ball bounced off a temporary scoreboard and settled in the midst of a pile of rocks. After a lengthy discussion with a rules official, Buckle got a free drop from the landscaped area but ultimately wound up playing his third shot from some wood chips in the same landscaped area.

“I was lucky because the ball was in between the rocks and I would have had to take an unplayable (lie),” he said. “Hitting out of the bark was a lot better than where I would have had to drop it on the side of the hill.”

Buckle’s lead was two for most of the chilly afternoon, but Sheehan, Dawson and finally Knox cut it to one just before dark. Sheehan and Knox both got it to 6 under but each stumbled with a late bogey to hand the outright lead to Buckle. Knox, a Jacksonville Beach, Fla., resident was perfect through his first 15 holes, hitting every green. His only miss came at the par-4 seventh hole which led to his only bogey of the day.

While Buckle had the best close of the day, Thompson had the best start. The 31-year-old from South Carolina birdied his first three holes and four of his first five. He turned the front in 5-under 30.

“I putted great today,” said Thompson, who switched putters this week to a heel-shafted model. “We’ve had two weeks off and I’ve been putting with it at home. I played Monday in the Hootie and the Blowfish Pro-Am and our team won it and I made some really nice putts that day which helped me gain some confidence with it.”

First-Round Notes:

--Ken Duke (66) had a hole-in-one at the par-3 sixth hole. Duke used a 6-iron for his ninth career ace. ”It really wasn’t a pretty shot. It hit the mound just right of the green and rolled in,” he said. “That’s how it goes sometimes -- you get good bounces and breaks.”

--Texan Brad Elder was the only player in the field to finish without a bogey. Elder also didn’t have any birdies. The former Texas Longhorn chalked up 18 pars on his scorecard. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and finished with 34 putts.

--Alistair Presnell of Australia withdrew during the first round due to a back injury. Ewan Porter withdrew during the round due to injury. Skip Kendall (73) withdrew after the first round.

--Thursday’s first-round scoring average for the par-70 layout was 70.067.

--The course had played to a par-71 during the first two years of the tournament, but the seventh hole was shortened from a 557-yard par 5 to a 469-yard par 4 this year. The hole played to a scoring average of 4.230 last year and was the easiest on the course. The newly-converted par 4 was the most difficult in Round 1 with a scoring average of 4.407.