Confident Laird takes lead at Barracuda

Rod Pampling putts in the shadow of Mt. Rose Thursday at the Barracuda Championship.

Rod Pampling putts in the shadow of Mt. Rose Thursday at the Barracuda Championship.

RENO — Martin Laird came into the Barracuda Championship exuding confidence, and that didn’t change after his first-round trip around Montreux Golf & Country Club.

Laird, who has three top-10 finishes in his three previous appearances here, recorded eight birdies and a bogey for 15 points on Thursday morning en route to the first-round lead.

Laird leads lefty Greg Chalmers, 2013 champ Gary Woodland and Camilo Villegas by one point. Colt Knost, Zac Blair, Jay McLuen and Brendan Steele finished with 13 points. Steve Marino and Jeff Overton are tied for ninth at 12 points, and Bronson Burgoon is alone in 11th with 11 points.

Laird tied for sixth in 2014, tied for second in 2009 and tied for fourth in 2008. He obviously likes the course.

“Obviously I played well,” Laird said. “The conditions were really nice this morning. The greens were perfect out there early, and the breeze didn’t pick up until the last few holes. So it was definitely ideal scoring conditions.

“I’m going to approach tomorrow just the same. I was confident coming into this week. I played well last week. I felt my game was in good shape. Had a couple of rounds last week (where) I felt I played really well, but didn’t score nearly as well as I could have. Today is one of those days where I scored about as well as I could. I made some putts and took care of some nice shots by making those putts.”

Laird knocked in birdie putts of 3, 6 and 16 twice on the front side, and he started his back nine with a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-4 10th and a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 11th. He two-putted from 33 feet for a birdie on the par-5 13th.

His only bogey of the day came when he missed the fairway on the par-4 14th and then missed a 10-footer which would have saved par. After three straight pars, he banged in a 6-footer for birdie on the 18th.

Woodland’s round was keyed by a 13-point barrage spanning six holes, including an eagle on the par-5th 8th when he hit an approach shot to 10 feet and drained the ensuing putt. The barrage continued on No. 9 with a 10-footer, and he dropped in a 4-footer on the par-3 11th.

He had a 7-footer for birdie on No. 12 and a two-putt birdie from 40-plus feet on the par-5 13th. He bogeyed 15 and 18, however, depriving himself of leading after one day. His approach shot on the par-5 18th found the water on the right.

“I’ve been playing really good for a while now,” said Woodland, who spent some time with coach Butch Harmon. “Butch and I focused a little bit on the driver this week. I don’t hit many out here, but we focused on the movement of the hips and slowing it down a little bit. It’s coming together. Hopefully it all comes together this week.

“Swung like an idiot; bad golf swing (on 18). I swung really good all day, and really the two bad golf swings I made were on par-5s on the back. I had a 5-iron into 13 and made a bad swing. Fortunately I got up and down (for a birdie). It was only 212 to the front (on 18). I could have easily got 6-iron to the front and caught the slope. Just a bad swing.”

Chalmers hasn’t won in his past 386 starts. It’s the longest active streak on the PGA Tour. After one day he said he’s not even thinking this might be the end of the drought.

“I think I’ve played, I don’t know how many hundred events, and haven’t won,” he said. “It’s getting up there. I don’t know if I’m leading that stat but I’m pretty close to it. So if I got a chance down at the end, it would be great. But right now here on Thursday, no, it doesn’t resonate a whole lot.”

Chalmers, who started on No. 10, birdied the par-4 12th and then holed an eagle chip on the par-5 13th. He bogeyed No. 14, but recorded birdies at 15 and 18. He had three birdies on his back nine (actually the front nine of the course).

“I had an average start, starting on the 10th hole,” Chalmers said. “That (eagle) got me going, and I started to see some good things happen. I picked up a couple more birdies on that nine and then made some nice birdies coming down the stretch.”

Villegas, after registering just one par on his first nine holes, caught fire with five straight birdies (Nos. 2 through 6), and after a par at the par-3 7th, he birdied the par-5 8th (his 17th hole).

The bulk of his post-round talk centered on his upcoming decision regarding the Olympics. He admitted he has talked to a lot of his fellow pros.

“I’ve been talking to Jordan (Spieth) and a lot of the guys,” Villegas said. “I’ve got to be honest, Maria and I are trying to have kids right now, so Zika is a concern. I’m also 142 on the FedExCup. Since day one I was excited about the Olympics. I think it’s great, great for golf. And it being in South America, and me being from Colombia, it’s important.

“I understand the guys that have been pulling out. But again, I got a job to do, too. I don’t have my job secured for next year. There are rumors here and there that I’m not playing. This is the first time I can say what’s on my mind, and that’s exactly what’s on my mind. I have to hopefully play good this week and then we’ll make a decision.”


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