Vegas, McGirt lead as Laird slips

Jhonattan Vegas and William McGirt shared the first-round lead in Las Vegas after each shot blistering 8-under 63s.

Jhonattan Vegas and William McGirt each posted career-best 8-under 63s for a share of the first-round lead at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children’s Open.

But Scotland’s Martin Laird struggled to maintain his love affair with Las Vegas.

The 28-year-old Glaswegian won the event in 2009 and only missed out on winning it again last year when he was defeated by Jonathan Byrd’s hole-in-one in a three-man play-off.

But he was clearly short of form on Thursday, shaving just one shot off the courses level-par 70 on a low scoring first day.

Laird actually made five birdies but four dropped shots left him stranded way down the field with a mountain to climb if he is going to get back into the race.

In the meantime Australian Nathan Green and American Charlie Wi were tied for second, a shot back on 7-under with World No 12 Nick Watney, the lowest ranked player in the field, already a two-time winner this season and the pre-tournament favourite, two strokes off the pace in a logjam at 65 along with Harrison Frazar, Tim Herron, Vaughn Taylor, Steve Flesch, Matt Jones, Rod Pampling, Derek Lamely, Blake Adams, Garrett Willis and Alex Cejka.

The big-hitting Vegas, the Venezuelan rookie who came out of nowhere and won his first US PGA Tour title at the Bob Hope Classic in January, off-set his 10 birdies on Thursday with two bogeys at the TPC Summerlin in the first event of the Tour’s winding-down Fall Series while the lesser-known McGirt, who is also a PGA Tour rookie, had eight birdies in a bogey-free round.

Vegas came down a hot and sticky, roller coaster closing stretch with birdies on the par-4 15th and par-5 16th holes, dropped a shot on the par-3 17th and closed with another birdie on the par-4 18th to get back to 8 under.

“I feel like I’m hitting the ball absolutely great, which is something fun to do,” a beaming Vegas told the media after his, “But the main thing was I made a lot of putts today.

“The two greens I missed today, I missed by probably half an inch. And just putting from the fringe, I three-putted both times, which was kind of ironic. It’s just golf. It is what it is. You have to stay positive, and the more positive you can be the better you’ll be out there.”

McGirt, playing in one of the last groups of the day, made seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch from Nos. 7 to 16, then parred the final two holes to match Vegas at 8 under.

“I really didn’t set a number,” McGirt said. “I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could. Thursday through Saturday, all you’re doing is jockeying for position so that you can make a move on Sunday.

“I knew a 7-under had been posted (by Green) even before I teed off. So I knew it was out there, and it was just a matter of staying aggressive and making some putts.”

Green, whose lone Tour victory came at the Canadian Open in 2009 and who held the lead on Thursday until Vegas overtook him in the final hour, made seven birdies and didn’t give anything away.

‘I made no mistakes, which was nice,” Green said. “No bogeys, which was pretty unusual. “I didn’t hit it overly close. It was just one of those steady rounds where I just managed to pick up; there were probably three or four sort of unexpected birdies out there.”

(US unless stated; par 70)
63 William McGirt, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)
64 Charlie Wi (Kor), Nathan Green (Aus)
65 Nick Watney, Rodney Pampling (Aus), Tim Herron, Vaughn Taylor, Steve Flesch, Garrett Willis, Harrison Frazar, Alex Cejka (Ger), Blake Adams, Derek Lamely, Matthew Jones (Aus)