WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Jonas Blixt blitzed the Old White.
The defending champion recorded eight birdies, including four in a row at one point to shoot a 64 to take a one-stroke lead at the Greenbrier Classic on a warm Thursday with sometimes threatening skies that seemed very much like last year for Blixt.
"I mean the conditions this morning was (the) exact conditions last year in the last round," said Blixt, who was able to take advantage of soft greens from rain that fell on Wednesday. "I mean the golf course is in perfect shape, like last year.
"The greenskeeper should get a lot of credit for it. It is very scorable. The greens are not very hard, and if you hit the fairways, you can definitely attack the pins, and if you're in the rough, you can still hit the greens quite easy."
Blixt, who was two shots out in a tie for ninth after last year's opening round, had plenty of company at the top of the leaderboard. Now wonder he wasn't all that confident that his 64 would still be on top when all 155 players dropped their final putts of the day.
However, a stiff wind and threatening skies changed the course, and Blixt still held the lead heading into today's second round.
"The wind is picking up a little bit so that's going to make it a little more difficult, but, yeah, you can definitely shoot a couple of more under there," he said. "Absolutely. Maybe not 59 right now, but, no, I really don't think I'm going to be the clubhouse leader after the first round."
He was wrong. Jim Renner, who had missed 14 of 19 cuts — including the last five — and Danny Lee had afternoon-best scores of 65. Six others also had 65, led by James Hahn, Jason Bohn, Joe Durant, Chris Kirk, Patrick Rodgers and D.A. Points.
"It was still soft today, but it was very playable," said Points, who finished fourth in the Greenbrier Classic in 2010. "I had a couple of mud balls, but not fortunately that got me into much trouble. The greens are super receptive, and if they don't get too spiky this afternoon there will be some low scores again."
Another eight players were two strokes back with 66, including Kevin Na and Steve Stricker, a late entry into the tournament, who is using his performance this week to make a decison on playing the British Open later this month.
"This is a good start," Stricker said. "You know, I'm just taking it one day at a time still and seeing what the day brings and trying do what I normally do and staying within the confines of my game and my game plan.
"We'll just keep plugging along and see what happens."
In all, there were 91 players who were at even par 70 or better on the 7,287-yard Old White, which is in its 100th year of use. Among those were Davis Love III and Keegan Bradley with a 3-under 67, while tourney favorite Bubba Watson, John Daly and Angel Cabrera finished at 68.
Defending champions Scott Stallings and Ted Potter Jr. both shot 70. So did FedExCup points leader Jimmy Walker.
"Definitely was kind of challenging out there," Bradley said. "The wind was _ I don't know if I've ever played where the wind was all over the place like it was today so I am really happy with the way I played."
Another 64 players finished above par, and will have to scramble to make the 36-hole cut, including several "big names" like Webb Simpson, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Vijay Singh and Justin Leonard, all of whom had 71. Stuart Appleby, who won the inaugural tournament in 2010, finished with a 73.
"I love playing here. I've had some good chances to win here since the tournament started," Simpson said. "Today, definitely did not play the way I wanted to. The game is there. I just need a couple of rounds Friday, Saturday, and get back in it for Sunday."
Blixt, who was playing with Walker and Stallings, played in the morning, starting on the back 9, recording six birdies, including four in a row on 16, 17, 18 and at the turn at 1.
He also birdied 10, 12, 14 and 6, and also had a pair of bogeys on 5 and 13. He finished up with three straight pars to end his round.
"At the beginning of the round I got some good breaks, and then I was playing a little better around the turn," Blixt said. "I had a bunch of good opportunities. The chip kind of got me going, got me moving the right way.
"You have got 17 where you can really take advantage of, having a wedge in, and you have a couple of wedges really, except for 18 maybe. It is nice to take advantage of those. Hit a couple of good shots there and then struggled a little bit coming in."
Blixt holds the unique situation of still holding the lead since last July when he defeated four others by two strokes to claim the crown.
"Just coming back, you come back with a bunch of confidence knowing that you won here before," Blixt said. "You really don't know what to expect, to be honest with you...
"Coming back here you gotta realize that it's a new golf tournament, and you gotta go out there and play it and play hard and try to make birdies and try to win it.
"You just start from scratch, and that's what I'm trying to do."
He did just fine, but now the task ahead is to keep it going for three more days.
"I've never been scared of having a low scoring round in the clubhouse," said Blixt, a native of Sweden, who played at Florida State.. "You need to back it up, and I think you go back to being comfortable and feeling like I'm in the hunt.
"I'm doing well. I am going to go out there and play aggressive tomorrow too, and I hope I can make as many biridies again and hope I can shoot four 64s this week. That would be hard to beat.
"Sometimes you have good days. It's hard to have good days every day so that's why it's so hard to back a really good round up."
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @bdtwoodson.
Defending champ leads Greenbrier after first round
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Jonas Blixt blitzed the Old White.
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