Masters champion Bubba Watson struggled with fatigue as fellow American Ken Duke birdied two of his last three holes to grab a share of the lead in Thursday’s opening round of the New Orleans Classic in Avondale, Louisiana.
While Watson launched his title defense with a battling one-under-par 71 in blustery conditions at the TPC Louisiana, journeyman Duke capitalized on a strategy of patience to card a flawless 65.
Bidding for his first victory on the PGA Tour, where he has been a runner-up three times, the 43-year-old Duke rattled up seven birdies to finish level with compatriot Cameron Tringale.
Americans Steve Stricker and Chris Stroud, Swede Daniel Chopra and three-time major winner Ernie Els opened with 66s, while Ben Curtis, who won the Texas Open on Sunday, was among a small group a further stroke back.
It was a tough day, though, for defending champion Watson, who was competing in his first event since winning the opening major of the year at Augusta National 18 days ago.
Watson, who beat South African Louis Oosthuizen at the second extra hole to win his first major title at the Masters, said his main aim this week was simply to make the cut.