HOUSTON (AP) — Charley Hoffman birdied half the holes on the Golf Club of Houston and had one bogey Thursday while shooting an 8-under 64 for the first-round lead in the Shell Houston Open.
He had a one-shot advantage over a group that included Scott Brown, the Augusta, Georgia, native who has never played in the Masters. Brown would have to win the Houston Open to get into the field next week at Augusta National.
Jordan Spieth, who will try to defend his Masters title next week, opened with a 67.
Hoffman is no stranger to good starts. It’s the finish that had held him back this year, closing with 75s in his last two events.
“I’ve shot 3- or 4-over on the back nine on Sunday when I’ve been going from winning the golf tournament to 12th or 15th place,” Hoffman said. “I’ve played fairly solidly from the start of the year to now and haven’t been missing cuts, but I haven’t been able to put four rounds together. Hopefully I can do that this week.”
Hoffman birdied the first four holes after making the turn, and then added another birdie on No. 8 to break out of what had been a four-way tie with Brown, Dustin Johnson and Robert Castro, who were at 65.
Johnson finished eagle-birdie, hitting 4-iron into 10 feet on the par-5 eighth hole.
“You always want to get off to a good start in any tournament,” Johnson said. “Today I got off to a great start. I still feel like I’m playing really solid, rolling the putter good.”
Castro, playing consistently from start to finish, produced seven birdies and no bogeys while missing only two fairways. It was a marked turnaround from what he called “rough Thursdays in my last two tournaments,” when he opened with 75s in the Valspar Championships and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Former Houston Open champion Johnson Wagner, who won in 2008 and got into a Sunday playoff here last spring, was another swing back at 66, tied with four other players. Wagner won the first year the Masters restored PGA Tour winners to its field. He would need another victory to get back to Augusta.
Spieth, who hasn’t won a title since January and surrendered his world No. 1 ranking to Jason Day on Sunday when Day won the Dell Match Play in Austin, said he “drove the ball fantastic today (and) really felt comfortable on my iron shots. I had very, very good control of my golf game and my short game was there today as well.”
Former Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Charl Schwartzel and Angel Cabrera all posted 69s.
The 39-year-old Hoffman has been on the PGA Tour since 2006 and won most recently two years ago in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He has already locked up a spot in the Masters by finishing among the top 12 last year at Augusta.
“I was really relaxed and played well today,” Hoffman said, while adding, “but I learned a long time ago you enter golf tournaments to try to win them, not try to make cuts. Making cuts is a great thing, but we play to win, not to base a resume off cuts.”
(This version corrects to Charley Hoffman already in the Masters.)
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