Ponte Vedra Beach, N.C. – Utah’s Zac Blair fired a bogey-free 7-under 63 on Thursday morning to grab the first-round lead at the Tour Championship, the finale to the Tour Finals. The Brigham Young University alum managed to get around the newly-renovated Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass in 23 putts to take a two-stroke advantage into Friday.

“When you get it rolling and you’re playing that well it definitely frees things up,” Blair said.

Five players posted 5-under 65s in the opening round – Scott Pinckney, Derek Fathauer, Sung Joon Park, Chad Collins and Bronson La’Cassie.

The Finals match Tour and PGA TOUR players together competing for 50 PGA TOUR cards and position for the 2014-15 PGA TOUR season that begins in early October.

Blair entered the Finals a little tired which resulted in missed cuts at the first three events. The 24-year-old rookie was putting too much pressure on himself. He tried so hard to play well knowing that his goal of reaching the PGA TOUR was within reach.

“It’s been crazy”, said Blair who has played 12 consecutive weeks on Tour. ”You always have to stay positive and look at the bright side.”

Blair entered the year with conditional status on the Tour. As a result he began 2014 competing on PGA Tour Latinoamérica with the goal of earning enough to get an exemption into the finals of Tour Q-School. The former All-American didn’t tee it up in his first Tour event until the Nova Scotia Open in July.

Blair recorded three straight top-25 finishes at the start of his Tour season and secured his spot in the Finals with his tie for second at the Price Cutter Charity Championship in just his sixth start.

“It’s just a bonus to even be out here,” said Blair. “Obviously I would like to capitalize on it and play well.”

Pinckney locked up his TOUR card with a T4 effort at the Chiquita Classic two weeks ago. The 25-year-old from Orem, Utah still has plenty to play for but has a care-free approach inside the ropes.

“It’s a weird feeling because I’ve been grinding all year,” said Pinckney. “I’m just going out, having fun and trying to execute every shot to the best of my ability.”

Collins thought that Dye’s Valley played tough on Thursday but chose to remain aggressive all day. The Indiana native got off to a rough start with a double-bogey on the first hole but hung in there and made seven birdies in his final 14 holes.

“I really don’t have much to lose and everything to gain,” said Collins. “I don’t need to put any undue pressure on myself.”

First-Round Notes:

* Thursday weather: Partly cloudy. Wind E 5-10 mph. Overnight low 72. Daytime high 88.

* Trevor Immelman and Dudley Hart both withdrew in the morning and prior to their afternoon starts. There are no alternates for this event and they were not replaced in the field.

* Three players who already assured on 2014-15 PGA TOUR cards are not in the field this week – Bud Cauley, Richard Sterne and Alex Cejka. Cauley won the Hotel Fitness Championship to start the Finals but tore a labrum in his shoulder shortly thereafter and had surgery last week. Sterne was a playoff runner-up last week to Justin Thomas at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and headed home to South Africa. His next stop is expected to be the Dunhill Links Championship Oct. 2-5 in Scotland. Cejka won the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship earlier this year and finished among the top-25 money winners on the Tour’s regular season money list.

* Tournament leader Zac Blair turned 24 less than a month ago. He was born and raised in Utah and is a 2014 graduate of Brigham Young University. Blair is scheduled to get married in three weeks in Park City, UT.

* Zac Blair’s 7-under 63 today matched the course record set by David Mathis in the second round of the 2010 Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open, which was played on the Dye’s Valley Course from 2010-12. Australian Ash Hall also posted a 7-under 63 in the first round of the Tour Championship a year ago.

* The lowest score in tournament history is an 11-under 60 by Michael Letzig in the opening round of the 2007 Tour Championship at Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, CA.

* Blair did not make a start on the Tour until the Nova Scotia Open in early July. He made the most of it with a T7 in his first start and then made six consecutive cuts after that. His best week was a T2 at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. A T14 the following week at the News Sentinel Open moved him up to No. 38 on the money list.

* In his first seven starts this year, Blair posted sub-par scores in 22 of 28 rounds and had a scoring average of 68.32. In his last four starts, all missed cuts, he failed to break par each round and had a scoring average of 73.5 for those four starts.

* Blair’s 63 today bettered his season/career low score on Tour. He previously shot a 65 on three different occasions.

* This is the first time that Blair has held/shared the lead after any single round on Tour. His previous best after 18 holes was a T4 following a 6-under 66 to start the Price Cutter Charity Championship.

* Blair comes into the last event of the Tour Finals with $0 to his credit. It’s guesstimated he’ll need around $40,000 to qualify for one of the 25 TOUR cards that will be handed out Sunday evening, which would be the approximate equivalent of solo fifth place, which pays $40,000.

* Scott Pinckney (T2) continued his solid, late-season play with a 5-under 65 today. Pinckney has all but wrapped up his PGA TOUR for next year after starting the Finals with a T25 at the Hotel Fitness Championship and a T4 at the Chiquita Classic the following week. Pinckney has $46,672 to his credit and entered the week at No. 17 on the Finals money list and No. 27 on the Priority Ranking.

* Pinckney was runner-up to Zack Fischer at last year’s Tour Qualifying Tournament.

* Derek Fathauer (T2) has finished T9, T16 and T8 in the three Finals events. Fathauer finished No. 13 on the money list for the regular season, which was highlighted by a playoff runner-up to Roger Sloan at the Nova Scotia Open.

* Chad Collins overcame a rough start to shoot his 5-under 65. Collins had a penalty stroke and a one-putt as part of his 6 on the par-4, 1st hole.

* Sung Joon Park is 28 years old, is from South Korea and goes by the initials S.J. He entered the week No. 69 on the Priority Rankings with $15,500, courtesy of a T14 finish at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. He made the cut in seven of 14 regular season starts on the Tour this year with a T3 at the Chile Classic and a T5 at the Air Capital Classic.

* Carlos Ortiz, the Tour’s regular season money leader struggled during his 4-over 74 that put him T107. Ortiz hit only 11 of 18 greens in regulation and had 32 putts. Ortiz captured the WinCo Foods Portland Open to end the regular season. It was his third win of the year and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the PGA TOUR for next year. Since winning in Oregon, Ortiz missed the cut at the Hotel Fitness Championship (76-77), did not play the Chiquita Classic and then missed the cut at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship (72-79).

* Ortiz entered the week with a $15,736 lead over No. 2 Adam Hadwin and a $44,934 lead over No. 3 Justin Thomas. Andrew Putnam is No. 4 on the money list with $340,037 and the only other player with a mathematical chance to overtake Ortiz on the list.

* There are only four players who have a chance to capture the non-Finals money list. Here’s how the top-4 money winners stand after the opening round:

1. Carlos Ortiz 74 T107
2.Adam Hadwin 66 T7
3. Justin Thomas 68 T17
4. Andrew Putnam 67 T12

* Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers entered the week as the “bubble boy” at No. 50 on the Priority Ranking with $30,000, courtesy of his T8 at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. Rodgers posted a 2-over 72 in the opening round and is T73.

* There were a total of eight eagles recorded in the first round and six of the eight came on par-4s:

No. 6 402 yards par-4 Ryan Blaum
No. 7 559 yards par-5 Ben Curtis
No. 8 499 yards par-4 Matt Weibring
No. 10 558 yards par-5 Aaron Watkins
No. 12 354 yards par-4 Heath Slocum, J.J. Henry, Hunter Haas
No. 16 326 yards par-4 Kevin Tway

What’s at stake this week:

* This week’s Tour Championship is the culmination of the four Finals events that started with the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, IN, followed by the Chiquita Classic near Charlotte, NC and last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, OH. The fields include players from the Tour (Nos. 1-75 on the money list) and PGA TOUR (Nos. 126-200 on the FedExCup standings, including non-members and medicals, and excluding those otherwise exempt).

* A total of 25 PGA TOUR cards were determined through the Tour’s 21-event Regular Season, which ended after the WinCo Foods Portland Open in August. Those 25 players are assured of PGA TOUR cards for the 2014-15 season, which starts next month.

* There will be an additional 25 PGA TOUR cards awarded Sunday to the top money winners in the four Finals events. The two lists of 25 will then be merged to determine the Final Priority Ranking, which will be used to form PGA TOUR fields.

* Bogey-free rounds this week:
R1: 63 – Zac Blair; 66 – James Nitties; 68 – Tony Finau, Spencer Levin

* The first-round scoring average was 70.712. A year ago the field averaged 70.113 in the opening round.

* Scoring Averages for the week:

Front (35) Back (35) Total (70)
R1 35.528 35.184 70.712

Source: PGA TOUR


Graham J Gordon, The Editor and Owner, GolfblogspotUK

The GolfblogspotUK website is owned and run by former Walker Cup player and European Tour card holder, Graham J Gordon, from Scotland, the Home of Golf. The owner is a golf fanatic who had to retire early from competitive tour play due to a back injury that required surgery. Graham wishes to share his knowledge and own experiences of the game with the GolfblogspotUK community and to receive your feedback on all aspects of the sport. Graham has been playing the game for over 20 years and received a great deal of pleasure from the sport. He has met several friends and visited many different places around the world, thanks to playing the great game of golf. Time to put a little back into the game to help others.

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