Bubba Watson of the US shrugged off a dose of post-Masters rust and eagled the par-five 11th on his way to a share of the lead in the opening round of the New Orleans Classic on Thursday.
The long-hitting left-hander fired a sparkling six-under 66 to take early control at the TPC Louisiana, before being caught late in the day by Australia’s Matt Jones, who birdied his last two holes.
Former world No. 1 David Duval opened with a flawless 67 to finish level with fellow Americans Joe Durant, Tommy Gainey and John Rollins, Swede Carl Pettersson and Australian Nick O’Hern.
Watson, making his first appearance on the USPGA Tour since tying for 38th at the Masters three weeks ago, made a faltering start when he bogeyed the opening hole.
“I told my caddie it was going to be rough,” the 32-year-old said. “Took two weeks off after Augusta and I just started working out again about three days ago, so my body’s just not where it needs to be right now. I told him I couldn’t feel my tee shot on the first hole. I couldn’t feel the ball hit the club face. I just pulled it and then plugged it into the bunker, and made a quick bogey.”
Despite also pulling his tee shot into a fairway bunker at the par-five second, Watson recovered in style, hitting his third shot there to within a foot for a tap-in birdie.
“Then I played solid the rest of the way,” Watson said. “It got me fired up. I hit my driver really well. I’ve been hitting it good all year, but I made some putts today, hit some good iron shots and somehow came out at six-under.”
Watson set up his eagle at the 11th with a booming 343-yard drive followed by a soaring six-iron over a cypress tree that landed 32 feet from the pin. He coolly rammed in the putt to break clear of a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard.
“Hitting a six-iron, that tree’s not really in play,” said Watson, who is renowned for his ability to bend the ball at will.
“So I went right over the top of it with just a straight ball. I can actually hit one straight every once in a while,” he added with a smile.
Among the other big names in the field, British world No. 3 Luke Donald carded a bogey-free 68, while ninth-ranked Steve Stricker of the US returned a 70. US Open champion Graeme McDowell combined five birdies with three double-bogeys for a 73.