PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Down to his last chance to earn a PGA Tour card, Ashley Hall opened the Web.com Tour Championship with his second-best score of the year – even though he called a penalty on himself when he noticed his ball slightly move.
Hall bounced back from that penalty shot to birdie two of his last three holes for a 7-under 63 on the Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass. That gave him a one-shot lead Thursday over Robert Karlsson of Sweden and Mark Anderson, who already is assured his PGA Tour card.
Karlsson, a former Ryder Cup player, also needs a big week to get back PGA Tour card back.
The Web.com Tour Championship is the last of four tournaments for 25 players to earn PGA Tour cards for the 2013-14 season. The top 25 are decided by a money list from the four tournaments. Players who already finished in the top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list from the regular season are assured a card.
Hall was in dire need of a round like this.
The 29-year-old Australian had a chance to earn his card from the Web.com Tour money list last month until he missed the cut in the final regular-season event and missed out on the top 25 by $1,922. If that wasn't bad enough, he missed the cut in the last three events.
Because of rain all week and still some in the forecast, players competed under preferred lies. Hall placed his ball in the 15th fairway, and after grounding his club, noticed the ball move slightly downward. He called for an official and gave himself a one-shot penalty for his only bogey of the round.
"I put it on a good a lie and the Bermuda grass wasn't strong enough," he said. "I could tell as soon as I put my club on the ground that I moved the ball."
Hall has never had a PGA Tour card and would need a top finish this week at Sawgrass.
"It's going to be nice to get out in the morning," he said. "Hopefully, it is still soft."
Karlsson is only slightly better off. He was at No. 72 on the special money list – about 22 spots away from getting one of the 25 cards on offer – was nearly $13,000 away from at least having a mathematical chance at his card.
"A couple of years ago I didn't want to step foot on a golf course," the Swede said. "But now I'm playing well and had a good run recently."
Karlsson opened with five birdies in seven holes and kept bogeys off his card on a cloudy day at PGA Tour headquarters.
"It's quite a tricky course," Karlsson said. "It's typical Pete Dye, you have to use all the clubs in your bag. I really like it."
Anderson, who earned his card by finishing No. 8 on the regular-season money list, also opened with a 64. He aced the 202-yard 14th hole with a 4-iron.
"It's all about improving your position because these finals events are extremely important," Anderson said. "If you can get that exempt status and get into The Players that's a tremendous advantage and a nice perk."
Shane Bertsch, at No. 97 on the special money list, joined Chesson Hadley at 65. The group at 66 included Henrik Norlander and Billy Hurley III, both of whom need a strong finish to get their cards.
It was a rough start for Steve Wheatcroft, who didn't make a single birdie in his round of 74 and was in danger of making the cut. Wheatcroft came into the Web.com Tour Championship holding down the 25th spot on the money list among players who don't already have a card. If he fails to make the cut Friday, he is assured of not getting a tour card for next year.
Vaughn Taylor, another former Ryder Cup player, was 21st on the list of those who don't have a card. He opened with a 71 and was outside the cut line. The top 60 and ties make the cut on the Web.com Tour.
The field over the last month was for the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and players who finished No. 126 through 200 in the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour.