Bhatia fires bogey-free 63 to seize lead at PGA Texas Open

golf05 April 2024 04:00| © AFP

Akshay Bhatia birdied five of the last seven holes to fire a nine-under par 63 and grab a three-stroke lead after Thursday's opening round of the PGA Texas Open.

The 22-year-old American fired a bogey-free round at TPC San Antonio to match his lowest career PGA round and notch his lowest total in the first 18 holes at any tour event.

"Just played really solid," Bhatia said. "This is my third time here. Not many golf courses on the tour have been my third time, so I think (I was) understanding the golf course a lot more. It was just a good day."

Justin Lower and Brendon Todd shared second on 66 with fellow Americans Max Homa, Denny McCarthy, Austin Eckroat and Tyson Alexander sharing fourth on 68.

World No 2 Rory McIlroy, in his final tuneup for next week's Masters, opened on 69.

Bhatia, with five top-17 finishes and four missed cuts in nine starts this season, captured his first PGA title last July at the Barracuda Championship, beating Patrick Rodgers in a playoff. He comes off a season-best finish of 11th at Houston last week.

"The last couple weeks is when I started working with Ryan, my psychologist, and that's where it has really paid off, just changing the way I look into the days and my goals for the day."

Bhatia, ranked 87th in the world, sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second, added back-to-back birdies at the fourth and fifth then closed the front nine with a 16-foot birdie putt.

He birdied the 12th from just outside six feet, added a tap-in birdie at the par-5 14th and sank a 15-foot birdie putt at 15 to seize the lead alone at 7-under.

Bhatia wedged his approach inches from the hole for a tap-in birdie at 17 and blasted out of a bunker to set up another tap-in birdie at the par-5 18th.

"I knew I had two tough tee shots coming in, 15 and 18. If I could just get out of there with a par, maybe birdie 18, just play it how we planned to, it would all work out," Bhatia said.

"I thankfully birdied 15 and then 18 got a very good break and happened to kind of hit in the right spots at the right time."

Lower, chasing his first PGA triumph at age 35, closed his bogey-free round with a 28-foot birdie putt.

Todd, who began on the back nine, birdied four of his final five holes, sinking a birdie putt from just inside 46 feet at the ninth to grab a share of second.

- McIlroy happy at start -

McIlroy, who can complete a career grand slam with a Masters victory, saw some optimistic signs in his game after a bogey-free round.

"I thought I played pretty well, hit some nice shots, played pretty consistently," McIlroy said. "It's the first round I've had without a bogey in quite a while.

"My game over the last couple months has been quite volatile, so to go out there and play a solid round of golf in pretty tricky conditions, pretty happy with it."

Meanwhile three-time major winner Jordan Spieth aced the 199-yard, par-3 16th hole. It was the American's fourth ace on tour and first since 2021 at Bay Hill.