RALEIGH, N.C. – Jim Renner of Massachusetts fired an 8-under-par 63 at TPC Wakefield Plantation to take the first-round lead at the Rex Hospital Open on the Nationwide Tour. Renner played the par-71 layout without a bogey and holds a two-stroke advantage over Australian Steven Bowditch, Shane Bertsch, Reid Edstrom and Charlotte’s Jeff Curl.
Another Charlotte native, Corey Nagy, heads a list of four players tied at 66, three of the pace. Joining Nagy are lefty B.J. Staten, Scott Gardiner and Justin Hicks.
Another 10 players are knotted at 4-under 67, including former UNC All-American Dustin Bray.
“My game has been coming around. I played good in the first round at the BMW (Charity Pro-Am) two weeks ago. I was right there but just didn’t play good on the weekend,” said Renner, who wound up tied for 33rd in Greenville, S.C. “This one was nice and stress-free.”
He was stress-free until he reached the par-4 18th. His tee shot went down the right side and stopped right behind the trunk of a tree.
“It was pretty much right in front of me,” said Renner, who was 152 yards from the pin, which was cut in the back right of the green. “I had to hit a big hook with a 9-iron. I could have punched out and then hit a wedge but I felt pretty good about it. It was a big one, but I’ll take it.”
Renner’s right-to-left sweeper found the front of the green and he two-putted from about 70 feet to close out his career-low score.
“I know my game is right there,” he said. “The goal out here is to win and put yourself in position to win. It’s tough. This game can be exhausting. Sometimes you wonder when it’s going to turn around. I’ve stayed pretty patient.”
The same can be said for Curl, a UNC-Charlotte product who has been battling a host of injuries. In the past three years he’s had two shoulder surgeries, five cracked vertebrae, torn ligaments in his ankle and had five cortisone shots in his left knee.
“It’s been a struggle. I’m living proof that your body starts breaking down after you turn 30,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had an injury in my life. I’ve just taken my body for granted.”
Curl’s latest injury was to his ankle last June and it ended his season. After sitting out the remainder of 2011, Curl got healthy and says he hasn’t had any pain of any kind in 2012.
“It’s fun to be healthy,” he said. “When I’m healthy I play great but I haven’t been able to put a full year together.”
Finally at full strength, Curl was clicking on all cylinders Thursday and only missed two fairways and one green.
“I’m notorious for being a late-bloomer. I struggled in Georgia, but I could feel it coming,” he said. “I would play good in practice rounds but not in the tournament.”
Curl tried something different on Thursday. He grabbed a putter he’d never used before and putted cross-handed for the first time in years.
“I played as well as anybody in Greenville but I just putted so bad and that’s been the trend all year,” he said. “I talked to my coach and he said ‘let’s try cross-handed to get that right elbow under.’”
The change proved effective, though Curl hit it so close with wedges on two holes, he could have knocked them in blindfolded.
--A total of 76 players posted below-par scores while another 26 are in at even-par 71.
--Jim Renner’s 8-under 63 matches the second-lowest opening round score since the tournament moved to TPC Wakefield Plantation in 2001. Scott Brown fired a 9-under 62 on the first day in 2010. Craig Bowden shot an 8-under 63 in the first round in 2005. Neither Brown nor Bowden went on to win the tournament in those years.
--Steven Bowditch’s birdie-eagle streak of 6 under was one off the tournament record. Bowditch went B-E-B-B-B on holes 3-7. Jimmy Green had a 7-under stretch in the first round back in 1998 when the tournament was played at Raleigh Country Club.
--Shane Bertsch (Nos. 11-15) and B.J. Staten (Nos. 2-6) each ran off a string of five consecutive birdies. Chris Baryla (2009) and Brian Stuard (2011) share the tournament record of six in a row.
--Defending champion Kyle Thompson opened his round with three bogeys in his first five holes. He eventually countered with enough birdies to shoot a 1-under 70.
--Nick Flanagan, winner of the BMW Charity Pro-Am two weeks ago, shot an even-par 71.
--Leading money winner Luke List fired a 2-over 73. He is tied for 119th heading into Friday.
--Hank Kuehne, making his first start on the Nationwide Tour since 2007, shot an even-par 71. Kuehne missed the better part of five years due to recurring back pain but is healthy again and playing on the PGA Tour on a Major Medical Exemption. He has been a granted a total of 19 starts this year on the PGA Tour and has already made seven. Kuehne has made only two cuts in those seven starts – he tied for 67th at the Valero Texas Open and tied for 62nd at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The last cut the former SMU standout made on the Nationwide Tour was the 2007 Chitimacha Louisiana Open, where he wound up tied for 19th – his only top-25 finish in 13 sporadic starts on the Nationwide Tour.
--The Nationwide Tour will head to Leon, Mexico for next week’s Mexico Open at the El Bosque Country Club.