Beware Garcia, the injured golfer

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Only three days after opting out of a major qualifier with an infected fingernail, Sergio Garcia is a title contender.

Only three days after opting out of a British Open qualifier with an infected fingernail, Sergio Garcia has stormed into contention at the Byron Nelson Championship

Despite his lack of practice at the championship’s TPC Four Seasons Resort. the beleaguered, 33-year-old Spaniard holed out with a sand wedge to eagle his opening hole and held on to his early momentum to post an excellent, 4-under-par 66.

It didn’t quite give him the lead, but his eagle, three birdies and a lone bogey did put him up front with the leading contenders, just two shots back from first round pace-maker Jeff Overton of the USA who opened with sparkling 6-under 64.

Fellow American Ryan Palmer finished in sole possession of second place after two late birdies gave him a 65, just a shot better than Garcia and the eight other pursuers he was tied with for third.

Australian young gun Jason Day, a runner up at the Masters in April, had a disappointing start, opening the defence of his title with a two over 72 that put him eight shots off the pace

“It was definitely a nice round to start the week,” said a beaming Garcia.

“On Tuesday I didn’t think I had a chance of playing; the finger was so sore. But we worked on it…they gave me some antibiotic cream and I kept putting on that cream and taking the antibiotics.

“It definitely feels better. A little sore still, but definitely I can play without having to think about it, which is good.”

Garcia said his opening eagle had come as a big, happy surprise after his wayward opening drive on the par four 10th.

He was lucky. He ended up with a good lie near a cart path and put his second shot 1156 yards from the flag.

“I thought if I hit a good shot with a sand wedge I could start with a birdie that would sort of calm me down after everything that had been going on through the week.

“I knew it was a good shot when I hit it and when I saw guys on the green saying ‘in’, I thought: ‘Perfect!’

“I couldn’t have started in a better way.”

The former world number two is bidding for his eighth PGA Tour title, but his first since the 2008 Players Championship more than three years ago..

Overton took control at the TPC Four Seasons late in the day with a bogey-free 64, his lowest score this season.

Chasing his first victory on the US Tour, the 27-year-old hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation as he blazed to the top of the leaderboard.

“It’s nice having confidence because of last year,” said Overton, the runner up 12 months ago, after posting four birdies in his last eight holes.

“I was able to hit a lot of great shots and get going early. I hope this is the beginning of a good streak for me.”

Overton’s tie for sixth at the Honda Classic in March is his only top-10 finish in 13 PGA Tour starts this year.

“I’ve been hitting it really well the last three or four weeks, I just have not made my putts all year,” he said. “Hopefully this is a break-through round and I can carry it over.”

There is an old saying, ‘beware the injured golfer’ Perhaps it will apply to Garcia this week and help him break out of his mystifying three-year winless drought.

Top 10 leaderboard
64 Jeff Overton (USA)
65 Ryan Palmer (USA)
66 Jeff Quinney (USA), Dustin Johnson (USA), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Scott Piercy (USA), Will Strickler (USA), Chris Riley (USA), Josh Teater (USA), Joe Ogilvie (USA) 66, Keegan Bradley (USA).

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