Canadian rookie Hughes grabs PGA lead at Sea Island


Washington (AFP)

Canada's Mackenzie Hughes, in only his ninth US PGA start, fired a nine-under-par 61 Thursday to grab a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the RSM Classic.

The 287th-ranked player in the world, who turns 26 on Wednesday, reeled off nine birdies and nine pars to grab the lead at the par-70 Seaside course, which along with the par-72 Plantation course is used by each golfer over the first two rounds.

"I found a good thought on the range this morning and it just kind of clicked from there," said Hughes.

It was the lowest first round in tournament history and a career-low for the long-time developmental tour standout, who was one stroke off Tommy Gainey's 2012 course record.

Hughes sank a 27-foot birdie putt at the par-3 third to close out back-to-back birdies, then birdied the odd-numbered holes to the turn, dropping a 28-foot birdie putt at the fifth and a 19-footer at the ninth.

A 55-foot chip-in birdie to begin the back nine sparked a run that saw him birdie 11, 14 and 15 and have a chance to birdie the last three holes to match Jim Furyk's tour-record 58. But he missed three birdie bids beyond 25 feet and parred his way in.

Stewart Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, and fellow American Jonathan Byrd shared second with career-low 62s, also at Seaside.

Cink left the tour in May when his wife Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer. She walked the course with him after undergoing chemotherapy in recent months and receiving a positive report from doctors this week.

Cink, a back-nine starter, sank a 35-foot birdie putt at the par-3 12th and ran off four birdies in a row starting at the fourth before a seven-foot par miss on the ninth hole, his last of the day, cost him a share of the first-day lead.

American Blayne Barber fired a 63 to stand on seven under. Another trio on seven under, who shot the low rounds of the day at 65 on the Plantation course, included Japan's Hiroshi Iwata and Americans Cameron Tringale and Kyle Stanley.

Iwata, who began on the back nine, birdied the 13th and eagled the par-5 16th but took his lone bogey of the day at 18. He sizzled after the turn with birdies on three of the next four holes and closed his round with back-to-back birdies.