Branden Grace of South Africa hasn’t played up to his standards since claiming his first PGA Tour victory in the 2016 RBC Heritage.
However, Grace displayed his old form in a 6-under-par 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Stewart Cink, Will MacKenzie, Steven Alker of New Zealand and John Huh after the first round of the Valero Texas Open on the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.
“I enjoy coming back here,” said Grace, whose tie for 11th in the RBC Heritage last week in his title defense is his best result on the PGA Tour this season, after he tied for 27th in the Masters. “I think it’s my third or fourth visit and I’ve played well here in the past. It’s one of those courses I like playing; it’s one of my favorites. The wind blows. I like playing in the wind. I like hitting it a lot lower than the normal guys out there.
“I missed only only one fairway, hit some good iron shots and made some putts. I left a few out there, but I made some nice ones, too. I’m happy with the way I played. I’m progressing nicely. I think it started at Augusta and continued in my title defense last week.”
The 28-year-old Grace has won 11 times as a pro, including seven times on the Europoean Tour.
Huh, of Los Angeles and Cal State Northridge, birdied four holes on the back nine in a bogey-free 67, while Cink and MacKenzie each made only a single bogey in their 67s, and Alker closed with three straight birdies late in the day.
Ken Duke holed a 76-foot bunker shot for an eagle on the 14th hole in a 68 and is in a huge tie for fifth with Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Brooks Koepka, Luke List, Steve Marino, Shawn Stefani, Seung-Yul Noh of South Korea, Bob Estes, Tom Hoge, Jonathan Randolph, Robby Shelton, Brian Gay and Bryce Molder.
Defending champion Charley Hoffman is in a tie for 56th with a 71.