Germany’s Alex Cejka birdied four of the last seven holes to grab a one-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the Heritage Classic in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
In pursuit of his first PGA Tour title, the 38-year-old sank a series of lengthy putts on his way to a sparkling seven-under 64 at the picturesque Harbour Town Golf Links.
Cejka holed out from 20 feet at the 12th, 15 feet at the 13th, 15 feet at the 15th and 45 feet at the 17th to end a sunny, breezy day a stroke in front of twice former US Open champion Lee Janzen.
South African Trevor Immelman, winner of last year’s US Masters, opened with a seven-birdie 66, while Americans Brian Gay and Ted Purdy returned 67s.
Cejka, who was sidelined for three months last year because of a neck injury, was delighted to shoot his lowest round of the season on the PGA Tour.
“I hit good shots today,” he said after carding seven birdies in a flawless display. “I played well and I was putting well. That’s the key. It’s not an easy course. It’s tight and you’ve got to shape the shots. You’ve got to be a little bit lucky on the small greens and stuff to hit them all.”
A four-times winner on the European Tour who fled his native Czech Republic as a nine-year-old refugee with his father, Cejka has set his sights on a healthy campaign this year.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been a little bit unlucky, a little bit injured,” he said. “I pinched a nerve at the British Open last year and just lost all my strength in the left side. I then had the neck surgery and was off for three months, so it was tough to come back.
“I’m not 100 percent,” Cejka said. “I’m like 85 percent. I’m working hard on it. It takes time. But I’m pretty happy in the way my body feels right now.”
Three-times major winner Ernie Els of South Africa and double Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain opened with matching 68s.
US Ryder Cup player Boo Weekley, who is bidding for a record third consecutive title at Harbour Town, carded a 69.