Justin Lower grabs lead as PGA Tour season tees off

Justin Lower grabs lead as PGA Tour season tees off

Second-year PGA Tour member Justin Lower holds a two-shot lead after the first round of the circuit’s 2022-23 season on Thursday in the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif.

Lower fired a 9-under-par 63 at Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course. Max Homa sits in second place at 65, and two South Korean golfers, S.H. Kim and Byeong Hun An, are tied for third at 66.

Rickie Fowler, Greyson Sigg, Sahith Theegala, Scott Harrington, Brice Garnett, J.J. Spaun, Canada’s Nick Taylor, Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, Germany’s Matti Schmid and South Korea’s Sung Kang share fifth place at 5-under 67. Robby Shelton was 5 under through 13 holes when play was suspended due to darkness.

About a quarter of the 155 players did not complete the first round.

Lower has never finished in the top five at a PGA Tour event. His best results were a tie for eighth in the Barbasol Championship and a tie for 10th in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

In a bogey-free round on Thursday, Lower started on the back nine and made four consecutive bides from No. 16 to No. 1. He alternated birdies and pars throughout the front nine.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “I birdied half the holes, so that’s always a good start, I guess.”

Lower only gained full playing status on the 2022-23 tour two weeks ago when the PGA suspended the most recent six players to jump to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit. He was one of the six who took the vacated spots.

“I’m honestly just happy to be in the position I am having … full status for once,” he said. “I actually get to play events I wanted to play this fall. Last fall I only got three starts, so looking to get off to a better start this fall for sure.”

Kim, a PGA Tour newcomer, finished the day with eight birdies and two bogeys.

“I was a bit nervous to get (going) today, but I had a good start which got me into a good rhythm,” he said. “And just as I got comfortable on the course, it led to me hitting some shots I wanted to. So overall I’m happy for how the day went today.”

Fowler, who recently changed swing coaches, is back in Napa for the first time since 2010.

Homa is playing this week ahead of competing for Team USA in the field in the Presidents Cup next week. Four members of the International Team are warming up at the Fortinet Championship: Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (69, tied for 24th), Canada’s Corey Conners (70, tied for 35th), Canada’s Taylor Pendrith (71, tied for 61st) and Australia’s Cam Davis (74, tied for 115th).

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