Struggling Indian golfer Arjun Atwal found himself in one of the best positions this season, sharing the third spot after a three-under 67 in the first round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic here.
At the TPC Southwind, Atwal had three birdies in first five holes on a windy day and thereafter he had two more birdies, on the 15th and 18th but bogeys on seventh and 17th prevented a higher finish.
Atwal, who has made only three cuts in 14 starts this season, trailed leaders Jeff Maggert and John Merrick by one shot. The duo shot four-under 66 each to share the first-round lead. U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy was two strokes back.
SY Noh, Atwal, Jeff Overton and JJ Henry were a stroke back. Atwal’s best this year has been tied 21st at Well Fargo Championship.
“I’ve been struggling all year, so not bad. I’ve actually started to hit it a little better the last few weeks I’ve been out. You know, just building on that. It’s a good score to have on this golf course,” said Atwal after the first round.
Talking of the windy and blustery day, Atwal said, “It could lay down or gust at about 15. The ball could be in the air and gusts. You have no control over that. You know, it’s just really tough out there.
“This golf course is always a good challenge. It was a tough day. I didn’t play a practice round. I was playing the 36-hole qualifier at Germantown Country Club for the U.S. Open.”
Atwal had missed the qualifiers by two shots.
“I played here before, but I haven’t played in a few years. So the golf course you can’t forget. Every hole is unique, but, yeah, no practice round this week. Just keeping the ball in front of me.
“I hit a couple of loose shots, got it up and down, but, you know, just not making any big numbers because this golf course can do that, just - putting pretty solid, too,” he said.
“It was a good birdie on 18. I never hit driver off that tee, and, you know, the fairway is a little bit softer this year because of the rain.”
Maggert took advantage of teeing off in the first group with calm conditions for the first seven holes and finished with four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. Merrick matched his best round of the year with six birdies and two bogeys.
McIlroy, preparing for his US Open title defense next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, followed at 68 in a group that included Padraig Harrington, Y.E. Yang and John Daly.
McIlroy, coming off three straight cuts worldwide, played alongside Harrington and Graeme McDowell in an all-Irish threesome. McIlroy and McDowell are from Northern Ireland, and Harrington from Ireland.