0

‘Stress-free’ Leishman takes early control in Texas

Marc Leishman tees off on the 10th hole during the first round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. (USA TODAY Sports: Geoff Burke)

Marc Leishman tees off on the 10th hole during the first round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. (USA TODAY Sports: Geoff Burke)

Australian Marc Leishman birdied three of his first five holes on the way to a “fairly stress-free” round and an early one-shot lead at the Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas on Thursday.

The 30-year-old from Victoria, bidding for a second career victory on the PGA Tour, carded a four-under-par 66 in breezy conditions for the opening round at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas.

Leishman piled up five birdies and a sole bogey, at the par-four fourth, to finish a stroke in front of Americans Ryan Palmer, Boo Weekley and John Huh, and South African Tyrone Van Aswegen.

Former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, also of South Africa, was among a group of eight players who opened with 68s.

Leishman, who clinched his first PGA Tour title at the 2012 Travelers Championship, made his first birdie of the day at the par-three second despite losing sight of his ball off the tee as he gazed ahead into bright sunlight.

Neither he nor his playing partners had any idea of where the shot had landed but load roars then erupted from the gallery gathered around the green and he later saw that his ball ended up only a foot from the cup.

“It was a good surprise,” a smiling Leishman told reporters. “I thought I hit a good shot, but it’s hard to tell when you’re looking straight into the sun. That’s one of the toughest shots in golf.”

The Australian sandwiched further birdies at the third and fifth around his lone bogey, and also picked up shots at the 10th and 16th to set the pace at an event where he has recorded top-12 finishes in four of his five starts.

“I enjoy playing in the wind, especially on golf courses where you can land it short of the green and bounce it up,” said Leishman. “I like this place.”

Defending champion Bae Sang-moon of South Korea did not enjoy the best of starts, mixing five birdies with six bogeys and a double at the par-four eighth to card a three-over 73.

Local favorite Jordan Spieth, who played with Bae in a high-profile grouping that also included his fellow American Harris English, opened with a 70. English returned a 71.