Palmer, runner-up last year, leads first round at Byron Nelson Championship

Ryan Palmer
Getty Images
Ryan Palmer shot a bogey-free 64 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Byron Nelson Championship, a year after losing a playoff to Keegan Bradley in a playoff.
By
Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

IRVING, Texas -- Ryan Palmer has been thinking about redemption at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, and a chance at home to hold up that trophy.

The 2011 Nelson runner-up is off to a good start.

Palmer, an Amarillo native who lives in Colleyville not far from the TPC Four Seasons, opened with a 6-under 64 on Thursday to take a one-stroke lead over Marc Leishman and Alex Cejka.

Last year, Palmer birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Keegan Bradley. Palmer then hit his approach into the greenside water to hand Bradley his first tour title.

"I didn't lose it last year by any means," Palmer said. "But to get back in the same setting with the same people watching, here where I live, and just to have that feeling again, this time be the guy standing with the trophy, that's been my focus."

Palmer's bogey-free start came on a relatively calm day. With only a light breeze, 85 players were at par or better in the first round on the 7,166-yard course where Palmer and Bradley finished 72 holes last year at 3-under 277.

Coming off his victory at The Players Championship last weekend, Matt Kuchar overcome an opening bogey and was in a group of seven players at 66.

"Coming off momentum, a little tired," said Kuchar, No. 5 in the world ranking. "It was a whole lot of extracurricular activities out of the norm for me, but I feel good about the round."

Kuchar's approach shot at No. 1 went over the green. He tried to putt it up the hill, but the ball ended up rolling back to his feet, prompting someone in the gallery to say, "I could have done that."

When Kuchar tried again, he got the ball within 4 feet for his only bogey. He was under par to stay after birdies at Nos. 3 and 4.

Bradley, who won the PGA Championship three months after the Nelson, was among 13 players who shot 67. His up-and-down round included four bogeys, five birdies and an eagle.

The only other top 10 player this week is 10th-ranked Phil Mickelson. Back at the Nelson for the first time in five years, he had a 70 with two birdies and two bogeys.

"It's a beautiful day, it's warm, not too hot, the greens are in great shape. They're receptive, you can get the ball stopped," said Mickelson, the 1996 Nelson champ. "Really good opportunity to take advantage of the course, and I just didn't."

The forecast for Friday, and into Saturday, calls for wind steady at 15-20 mph and gusting to 30. That is similar to what happened last year, when scoring conditions quickly got tougher.

"Blow wind, blow! ... Picking up about 12:45 (p.m.) hopefully," said Palmer, who plays Friday morning. "Maybe we can build on (the first round) and set myself up for a big weekend."

It worked so well last year that Palmer is again letting caddie James Edmondson call all the shots at the Nelson. With input from instructor Randy Smith, Edmondson tells Palmer what and where to hit.

They have tried that briefly at other courses without the same kind of success. But the formula works at the Nelson.

"Continuation from last year, that's what's cool," Palmer said. "For some reason, I get in the frame of mind with this golf course and what me and him are doing, and it was the same exact thing. I didn't move until he put the bag down and half of the time he pulled the club out of the bag and handed it to me, I didn't know what the club was."

Former PGA Tour rookie of the year Leishman had two eagles on the back nine, at the 323-yard 11th hole and the 546-yard 16th.

The 65 was his best of 41 rounds this season and lowest since another 65 in the first of his 84 rounds last year, when he slipped to 65th in the FedEx standings -- 45 spots below his standout rookie year of 2009.

"Last year was pretty disappointing. I felt like I got off to a good start and then just about nothing for the rest of the year, really," Leishman said. "It's the first time since I've been a pro that I've struggled for a decent amount of time, just not hitting the ball as well as I would like to, not holing putts. This year, I feel like I'm doing everything a lot better."

The 28-year-old Australian hit 11 of 14 fairways and needed only 24 putts Thursday.

"It probably took longer than I would have liked to have a good round like this," he said.