SAN ANTONIO — South African Branden Grace had 6-under-par 66 and leads by a stroke after the opening round of the Valero Texas Open on Thursday.
Grace had a season-best 11th-place finish last week in defense of his RBC Heritage title. He leads the 5-under 67s of Steven Alker, Stewart Cink, John Huh and Will MacKenzie at TPC San Antonio. Alker, a journeyman New Zealander who played in the final group of the day, birdied the final three holes.
There are 13 players packed two shots back at 4-under. That includes 2010 U.S. Open champion Graham McDowell and 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup member Brooks Koepka.
Two weeks ago, Grace was over par but still survived the cut at the Masters Tournament. He played the weekend in 3-under, and his best scorecard last week at Hilton Head was 68. The 66 on Thursday was his best round since Hawaii in January.
“That’s the one round I was waiting for,” Grace said. “I’ve been shooting the 69s and 70s, but not getting that one low round. This is nice.”
His day took off with three consecutive birdies mid-round, including a 22-foot putt at the ninth after missing his only fairway of the day.
It almost wasn’t as nice for McDowell, who’s won twice on the PGA Tour since his U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach seven years ago.
“I made bogey at 11 from the middle of the fairway, (and) I ripped it down the middle of the 12th fairway right in the middle of a divot and duffed it out short of the green and made bogey there,” he said. “To recover after that with a great birdie at 13 and a nice up-and-down at 14 for birdie, it was nice to bounce back.”
European Tour: In Shenzhen, China, Bubba Watson fired 6-under-par 66 in the first round to take a one-stroke lead at the weather-delayed Shenzhen International on Thursday.
Starting on the 10th hole, Watson bogeyed the 12th but bounced back with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to turn in 34. A birdie at the first hole was then followed by an approach shot to eight feet on the par-5 second, setting up an eagle that sent Watson to the top of the leaderboard.
Web.com Tour: In Newburgh, Ind., Abraham Ancer, Kyle Thompson and Ryan Yip each shot 4-under-par 68 to share the lead at the United Leasing &Finance Championship.
Among the locals in the field, Roberto Diaz shot 72, Blake Adams had 74 and Matt Atkins carded 77.