MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Justin Leonard took advantage of his early tee time, shooting an 8-under 62 in unusually calm conditions at TPC at Southwind to take a two-stroke lead after the opening round of the St. Jude Classic.
In the fourth group of the morning, Leonard shot his best round since a 61 in the final round at Colonial in 2003, where he finished second.
He birdied his first three holes, six of the opening nine, and finished with eight during his bogey-free round.
After Leonard entered the clubhouse early with a five-stroke lead, Kirk Triplett (64) and Davis Love III (65) did their best to catch up during the afternoon. But Triplett parred his final two holes, while Love finished with seven consecutive pars.
Jason Bohn birdied his final hole and tied Love with a 65.
Matt Gogel and Tom Pernice each shot 66s, while Olin Browne, Paul Goydos, 2001 champion Bob Estes and Hank Kuehne are in a large group at 67.
Two-time defending champion David Toms is trying to become the first golfer since Tiger Woods to win the same PGA Tour event three straight times. He teed off at the same time as Leonard at No. 10, but Toms gave back a couple shots on the easier front nine and finished with a 68.
Even Leonard acknowledged his performance was completely unexpected, especially on a TPC at Southwind course toughened with new greens and turned from a par 71 to 70. But this is his third week in a row back on tour after the birth of his second daughter, Avery.
"I feel like I played my way into this round. Certainly shooting 62 is a surprise," Leonard said. "I felt like that coming into this week I was in a pretty decent place. After the last two days working, everything felt pretty good."
He called playing conditions "benign" with clear skies and no wind, not even a breeze. That changed by early afternoon with winds reaching 12 mph.
"If we get a day this week or in the future where you get your normal prevailing winds here, you will see how much tougher it is," Leonard said.
This has been an interesting year for Leonard, who won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic at the end of January, then took a month off to spend time with his family following Avery's birth. He has missed four cuts, with his win at Bob Hope being his only top-10 finish.
The Texan knew he had to play the Byron Nelson and Colonial. But it was his wife, Amanda, who helped him decide to schedule his first trip back to Memphis since 2002.
"She was looking up kind of my history, and she was kind of going through Memphis. 'You know, you have played really good at Memphis,'" Leonard said. "I said, 'Well, it fits perfect in the schedule. I have played well, so let's go.'"
He has three top-10 finishes here, but this course now plays 141 yards longer at 7,244, with the biggest change on the former par-4 No. 5, now a 485-yard par 5. The tournament with a 26-under record was supposed to be a tougher challenge.
Not with Leonard driving and putting well. He hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, including all nine on the front side, and needed only 26 putts.
He opened with a 9-iron to less than 3 feet on the par-4 No. 1 for his opening birdie, stuck a sand wedge to 4 feet on No. 2 and put a pitching wedge to 5 feet on the par-5 No. 3. Leonard kept hitting his short irons well with a 7-iron to 13 feet on No. 5 for birdie.
He used his putter from 47 feet for birdie on the 482-yard, par-4 7th, then made the turn with a 29 after hitting a pitching wedge to 3 feet.
His putter saved par on Nos. 13 and 14 with a 6-footer, then a 10-footer. He then used his putter to pull off his final birdies with a 28-foot putt on the par-4 No. 15 and a 20-footer on the par-4 No. 17.
Leonard said he definitely enjoyed putting on the champion Bermuda greens, which were changed out from bentgrass after last year's tournament.
"There is not a lot of grain. I broke as many tees fixing ball marks as I did on the tee box," he said. "The rough is so thick. There is not a lot of grain. You can put a good read on the ball, you can putt well."
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