Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
AP Brandt Snedeker prepares to take his second shot on the seventh hole.
# American Dream
Pádraig back in the swing as Mathis takes lead in Memphis
After an injury-enforced break, Harrington makes satisfying return to action.

IT WAS EASY does it for Pádraig Harrington as he made good progress on his return to the PGA Tour.

The Dubliner opened the St Jude Classic with a more than satisfying level- par 70.

The three-time major winner missed the BMW PGA at Wentworth with a leg injury but showed no signs of rustiness with a good performance.

But it was American journeyman David Mathis who grabbed a one-shot lead despite bogeying his penultimate hole.

Mathis matched his best round ever on the PGA Tour, shooting a five-under 65 Thursday to grab the opening round lead at the St Jude Classic.

He jumped to the top of the leaderboard late in the day, finishing with six birdies and one late bogey. He is back on the PGA Tour for a second time thanks to finishing 13th on the Nationwide Tour money list last year.

Robert Karlsson, who lost a four-hole playoff here a year ago, shot a 66 and was tied with John Merrick, Kris Blanks, Kevin Kisner and Colt Knost.

Keegan Bradley and Fabian Gomez each had 67s. Bradley is among the few here who could play their way into the US Open by winning at the TPC Southwind for a second tour victory since the last Open. Bradley won the Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago.

Retief Goosen and Boo Weekley were among a group with 68s. Defending champion Lee Westwood opened with a 69.

The 37-year-old Mathis has been playing golf since turning pro in 1997 after leaving Campbell University. He started playing mini tours and was on the Canadian tour before switching to the Nationwide circuit. He first joined the PGA Tour in 2009 when he posted a pair of top-25 finishes, including a tie for 23rd in Memphis.

But he wound up back on the Nationwide Tour last year. St. Jude, sponsored by FedEx, is his 14th event on the PGA Tour this year with five missed cuts.

The native of Winston-Salem, NC, credited a visit with his coach Patrick Kelley this week for helping straighten out his line when putting. He noticed the difference almost immediately when he started on the back nine and rolled in a nine-footer to save par.

Then he added a birdie putt on the par-three No. 11 from just inside 19 feet, plus 8-footers for birdies on Nos. 13 and 16. He had a 15-footer for birdie on No. 2 from a fairway bunker to join the pack tied at 4 under.

Mathis had the lead to himself when he hit a wedge on the par-5 No. 3 to within 13 feet, then made another birdie. He padded his advantage with a four-footer on No. 5 for his sixth birdie.

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His lone bogey came on No. 8, when he three-putted from within 8 feet.

He said the key yesterday was hitting shots closer to the hole.

“It’s definitely been something that’s been hurting me,” he said. “I’ve been hitting greens but not really getting it close. Today I hit some good shots and had some decent looks at birdies that were inside 10 feet.”

Kisner is a rookie in his 13th event on tour this season. He started this tournament with only his fourth round in the 60s this year, taking advantage of a morning tee time with little wind. The South Carolina native who went to the University of Georgia hasn’t finished better than a tie for 39th, and Kisner said his biggest challenge is learning the courses.

“The courses are much more difficult than the Nationwide,” he said. “You really have to know where you’re going to miss it and places to be. It’s all just part of learning. It’s why they call you a rookie.”

-additional reporting AP