Blistering 63 puts Walker in front

Jimmy Walker has matched the course record with a blistering 9-under 63 in Thursday’s first round of the Shell Houston Open.

Jimmy Walker matched the course record with a blistering 9-under 63 in Thursday’s first round of the Shell Houston Open at the Redstone Golf Club in Humble – and then gave much of the credit to his putting.

“I’m not going to say like, ‘Oh, every time I hit the green, this one is going in,'” the 32-year-old American said.

“I just kept stroking it. I felt like I kind of got back to feeling that stroke that I was using earlier in the year, when I was putting so good and playing so good.”

Walker hit only five of 14 fairways, ranking 136th out of the 142 players who teed off on a warm, calm Thursday at Redstone, but he posted nine birdies in a bogey-free round that matched the scoring record set by Johnson Wagner and Adam Scott in the first round of the 2008 tournament.

Wagner went on to win that year.

Walker has featured on a fair number of leaderboards this season, had two fourth-placed finishes and is 26th on the US money list, but he is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory.

On Thursdsay the lanky San Antonio started on the back nine and quickly realized that he had the touch, sinking 16 and 17 foot birdie putts on the 14th and 16th holes and two 15-footers on the 4th and 6th holes to reach 8-under par before rolling in an 8-footer on the par-5 8th for his 9th birdie.

Walker changed putters at the start of the season, and since then he has made six cuts in eight starts. His first round on Thursday matched the lowest of his career.

“When you putt well,” Walker said, “it cures a lot of ills, for sure.”

Tournament organizers attracted many top players by grooming the course to simulate conditions at Augusta – light rough, shaved mounds, fast greens and fairways mowed toward the tee.

And most of the big names scored well, as they honed their games for next week’s Masters.

Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington were in the player logjam at 4-under, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen were at 2 under and former Masters champions Angel Cabrera and Fred Couples were 1-under.

Mickelson was 3-over after seven holes, then appeared to crack his driver when hitting his tee shot on the par-5 8th.

The World’s number one left-hander later said the club was only marked, not damaged, and proved his assertion by hitting his drives well the rest of the day.

He made six birdies after that to match his third-lowest round in four starts at at Redstone.

“Outside of maybe, Augusta, the course has got to be the best manicured course I think we play on Tour, ,” Mickelson said. “The greens, they’re just pristine. If you get the ball tracking on the right line, you know it’s in.”

Heading into the second round, Australian Nick O’Hern, the early leader, and American Josh Teater were tied for second with 65s and Chris Kirk was alone in 4th place with a 66 after dropping a shot at the last.

After Westwood and and Harrington, the best of the other Europeans were Italy’s Francesco Molinari who was three under, England’s Ross Fisher and Brian Davis and German Alex Cejka who shot rounds of 71, as did South Africa’s Ernie Els.

European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal had a day to forget, carding a 77, but it was worse for Australian Steven Bowditch who had two double bogeys and a quadruple-bogey eight in the space of four holes to reach the turn in 10 over par.
He managed to complete the back nine in level par, but was set to miss the cut