Sunday, February 25, 2018
Golf

Zurich Classic leader opens with a course record

AVONDALE, La. — A few weeks ago, Ben Martin had missed seven of eight cuts and figured he'd better make some changes.

He started by meeting with his sports psychologist and hiring an old buddy from Clemson as his new caddie.

The results have been pretty good so far.

On Thursday, he treated a tiny late-afternoon gallery to a course-record round, shooting 10-under 62 in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

"Really, everything was working well," Martin said. "I had a pretty good start and just kept it rolling. It was just one of those days, just like you draw it up."

Martin birdied 10 holes and made pars on the rest. His final birdie came on his most spectacular shot in a round full of them when he chipped in from 55 feet with a 54-degree sand wedge on the par-3 17th. That came a hole after the 26-year-old South Carolina native hit the flag on a chip from behind the green, setting up a tap-in par.

The record at TPC Louisiana was 64, accomplished many times, including earlier Thursday when Andrew Svoboda did it to take a lead that held up until Martin's surge. Svoboda birdied six of his last nine holes.

Like Martin, the 34-year-old Svoboda has never won on the PGA Tour and appreciates how much can change in the next three rounds. At the same time, New Orleans has seen its share of maiden tour triumphs. It has happened in six of the past nine years, and 10 of the past 16. "I'll take that stat," Svoboda said.

Peter Hanson and Sueng-Yul Noh were tied for third at 65.

Martin stayed home during the Masters two weeks ago, when meetings with his psychologist persuaded him to focus more on the process of playing on the tour than his results. Then he hired fellow former Clemson player Alex Boyd to haul his clubs, giving him a sense of comfort as walked the course with someone he could talk to about anything: "We're good friends … have a lot in common, so a lot to talk about in between shots."

Last weekend, Martin matched his career best with a third-place tie in the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. He also finished third in early March in the Puerto Rico Open, but missed four cuts after that.

U.S. OPEN: The USGA received a record 10,127 entrants for the June 12-15 major at Pinehurst No. 2, breaking the mark of 9,860 a year ago. Among the entries were 51 players exempt from qualifying. That includes 12 former Open champs, such as defending champ Justin Rose and Tiger Woods, who's recovering from back surgery and has said only that he hopes to return this summer. Local qualifying (18 holes) starts May 2 at 111 sites, and 36-hole sectional qualifying will be June 2. There will be two sectional qualifiers May 26 in England and Japan.

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