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Stroud leads while Watney is 2-over at Wyndham

Davis High graduate Nick Watney — shown here taking a shot at last week's PGA Championship — shot a 2-over 72 in the first round of the Wyndham Championship on Thursday. AP photo

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From page B8 | August 16, 2013 |

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Chris Stroud doesn’t want any rust in his game for the PGA Tour’s playoffs. Ross Fisher just wants to make it that far.

Stroud and Fisher each shot 6-under 64 on Thursday to share the first-round lead in the Wyndham Championship.

Eight players — defending champion Sergio Garcia, Matt Jones, Robert Garrigus, Jordan Spieth, Trevor Immelman, Morgan Hoffman, Patrick Reed and Andrew Svoboda — shot 65.

John Senden and Stuart Appleby were among the five players at 66 at the final tournament before golf’s postseason begins next week.

Davis High graduate Nick Watney may have been looking forward to the postseason, as he struggled to a 2-over 72. The former Blue Devil did manage three birdies, but three bogeys, as well as a double bogey on No. 14, hurt his cause.

Stroud, meanwhile, had eight birdies during his best round of the year, which came at the Donald Ross-designed course that had vexed him through the previous five years.

“I’ve even told people I love this golf course,” Stroud said. “I have no idea why I don’t play well here.”

Stroud could’ve easily skipped this week and rested up for the playoffs. He arrived at No. 48 on the points list and — unlike so many other players here this week — is assured of a spot in the playoff field.

He has played this tournament every year since the crosstown move but made it to the weekend only once — tying for 73rd last year.

After missing the cut at PGA Championship by a stroke, he said he “told my caddie, ‘I got to play next week.’

“I’m playing too well to go home and just sit and get rusty,” Stroud added. “I said I want to get sharp for The Barclays. Let’s go to Greensboro, low expectations since I haven’t played that great here.”

Those expectations might have been raised after a strong first round in which he made a quick charge up the leaderboard with three straight birdies.

The 31-year-old Texan, who started on the back nine, stuck his tee shot roughly 2 feet from the flagstick on the par-3 seventh and sank that putt to briefly move to 7 under.

He bogeyed the next hole after sending his tee shot into a water hazard, then pushed a 5-foot birdie putt wide on the par-4 ninth and settled for a par. That capped a round that was two strokes better than his six 66s this year, most recently last month at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Fisher, a four-time winner on the European Tour who’s a rookie on the PGA Tour and at No. 162 on the points list, was in the day’s final threesome to start on the back nine, and he made his climb late.

“My manager said, ‘You’ve got nothing to lose. Just go out there all guns blazing and see what happens,’ ” Fisher said. “I know what I’ve got to do, and I’ve just got to go enjoy it, and if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. … I don’t want it to end here.”

He eagled the par-5 fifth when he landed his approach shot about 7 feet from the flagstick and sank the ensuing putt, then joined Stroud at 6 under two holes later with a 30-foot birdie putt. He could have overtaken him, but missed a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 8 before pushing a 40-foot birdie putt a few inches wide on No. 9.

Garcia, who claimed a two-stroke victory here last year, hit 17 greens during his bogey-free round. He is trying to become the first player since Sam Snead in the 1950s to win this tournament in consecutive years.

“It was a great round today, but it’s only Thursday,” Garcia said.

The greens were a hot topic of conversation among the players. The putting surfaces are a year more mature after a 2012 conversion from bent grass to Bermuda grass in an attempt to keep them firm and true to Ross’ intent.

Stroud said the greens “roll like pool tables,” Garrigus compared their speed to those found in major tournaments and Svoboda called them the fastest Bermuda greens he’s ever played.

“It’s unbelievable, the difference from where they used to be,” Garrigus said. “It’s very refreshing.”

Some bubble players are trying to play their way into the top 125 on the points list, which would earn them spots at The Barclays next week in New Jersey.

Peter Hanson, who at No. 126 was the consummate player on the bubble, gave himself a good push with a 68. Appleby, at No. 123, is in good shape with his strong round.

But No. 129 Padraig Harrington shot a 73 to put his playoff fate in jeopardy. Immelman, at No. 148, needs a win to make it.

Jones, who is safe this year at No. 51 on the points list, can relate. He finished 126th in 2009 and 127th two years ago after rough weeks at this tournament.

“I’ve definitely been there before,” Jones said. “I know what they’re going through. It’s not a comfortable feeling.”

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