STEPHEN HAWKINS,AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Ryan Palmer was standing in the fairway on his last hole Thursday when his longtime caddie and fellow Colonial member issued a challenge.
James Edmondson, who won his third Colonial club championship last year, told Palmer that a birdie would match the caddie’s low round at Hogan’s Alley.
“What do you do when you get that thrown at you,” Palmer said.
Palmer hit his approach to 5 feet at the 388-yard ninth hole for an 8-under 62 that matched the lowest PGA Tour first round at Colonial. That put him a stroke ahead of John Rollins, who had his best round this season.
For all the rounds Palmer has played at Colonial, where he has been a full dues-paying member since 2010, he had never had such a low score. He generally plays there two or three times a week during the offseason and once or twice during weeks he’s not playing the PGA Tour.
“These old men here make me grind because I have to give them so many shots. Maybe that helps,” Palmer said, smiling. “Usually in a practice round, I don’t think I’ve shot below 65. You just don’t grind a lot. In this situation, you grind a little harder. You are able to focus more. When I’m out here with the guys, I mean half the time I might grab a few (beers) for the back nine.”
Graham DeLaet, wearing pants with a plaid design similar to the jacket Colonial winners get, matched Morgan Hoffmann, David Hearn and John Peterson at 64. Matt Kuchar, No. 13 in the world ranking and the highest-ranked player in the 136-man invitational field, was in a group of six players at 65.
Rollins, who like Palmer lives in nearby Colleyville, has playing privileges at Colonial like other PGA Tour players though he doesn’t play the 7,204-yard layout nearly as much as Palmer.
“He’s a pretty permanent fixture in the men’s group and everything that goes on out here,” Rollins said.
Palmer, the former Texas A&M player who has three PGA Tour victories, had a bogey-free round, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation, with his first birdie putt being his longest. He was still even par until his 17-footer on his fifth hole, the 442-yard 14th, that started his stretch of four consecutive birdies. The only other birdie over 10 feet was a 14-footer at the 391-yard sixth hole.
“It’s pretty neat. A lot of fun,” Palmer said. “Being a member here, we played it so many times, James and I. I felt comfortable over every tee shot. I hit driver almost everywhere that I could. I drove it perfectly today I felt. I hit it close a lot and made a lot of putts from about 5 or 6 feet. … (Playing partner) Brian Stuard’s caddie even made a comment on how comfortable I was because I’ve done it so many times.”
In his nine previous PGA Tour appearances at Colonial, Palmer’s only top 10 was a tie for fifth last year. He missed the cut in 2010, the same year he became a full member.
Now he finally leads at Colonial after matching his best-ever round on the PGA Tour.
“This is what I dream about when I play here every year,” Palmer said. ” This is the one tournament I gear up for the most.”
David Toms had an opening 62 when winning at Colonial two years ago. He was tied for the first-round lead that year with Chez Reavie. The only other opening 62 was Patrick Sheehan’s in 2005. The course record of 61 is shared by six players, the last Chad Campbell in 2004.
Rollins’ only bogey came after his drive at the 431-yard 12th landed in a fairway bunker. But he quickly got that shot back at the 193-yard 13th hole when he hit his tee shot within 7 feet of the cup.
Kuchar’s only bogey came at the 241-yard, par-3 fourth , the middle hole of Colonial’s famed “horrible horseshoe” because of the layout of a three-hole stretch where that par 3 is sandwiched by the two longest par 4s on the course. But he came right back with a 10-foot birdie at the 472-yard fifth to get to 5 under.
Colonial is one of Kuchar’s favorite courses. Plus, the PGA Tour’s two-week visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the Byron Nelson Championship and the Colonial provides extra time for him to work with his Dallas-based swing coach.
“I feel like I start coming along maybe the end of this week,” Kuchar said. “Things get really clicking.”
Defending Colonial champion Zach Johnson shot 69, the 16th time in his last 17 rounds under par at Colonial. The lone exception in that five-year span, when he also won in 2010, was last year’s closing 72 that included a two-stroke penalty on the final hole. He had four bogeys and three birdies.
“I think overall more positives than negatives. I’m not going to dwell on too much here,” Johnson said. “It’s a fairly solid day, a day I didn’t shoot myself out of it. I would have liked to have a couple of more birdies.”