Rickie leads Shell Houston Open with bogey-free 64

Rickie Fowler skipped the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last week with plans to play his way into the Masters next week.

So far, it’s paying off.

Fowler birdied five of his first seven holes to kick-start an 8-under-par 64 to took a one-stroke lead over Sung Kang of South Korea after one round of the Shell Houston Open on the Tournament Course at the Golf Course of Houston in Humble, Texas.

“I was able to get off to a good start and kept it going all the way around,” said Fowler, the ninth-ranked player in the world who claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory last month in the Honda Classic. “I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the par 3s, played them at 3-under.

“Last week I wanted to be off, get some down-time rest and spend time with friends.

I just don’t play four (tournaments) in a row, and Bay Hill (the week before) is a place that I like to play. … I love playing here. I like playing my way in the majors and they’ve been able to do a great job here with just conditions around the greens and making it similar as possible to next week (at Augusta National).”

Fowler started on No. 10 and sank a 10-foot birdie putt, added three birdies in a row thrown No. 14 and another two holes later. He birdied Nos. 2 and 4 early on the front nine before nearly holing his tee shot on the par-3 ninth before sinking a five-foot putt for a closing birdie.

Kang, who has won three times on the Korean Tour, was tied for the lead but missed a four-foot par putt on the last hole to finish his 65.

“I played really solid today,” said Kang, whose best result on the PGA Tour was a tie for third in the 2012 Children’s Miracle Network Classic. “Unfortunately on the last hole there were a couple of spike marks in my line that kicked my ball to the right. Except for that, I played great. I’m very pleased with how I played and I just want to have another good round tomorrow.”

Stewart Cink and Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela posted bogey-free 66s and were tied for third with Kyle Stanley, while Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose of England had five straight birdies through No. 13 in a 67 to tie for sixth with Keegan Bradley, Vaughn Taylor, Hudson Swafford, Troy Merritt, Russell Henley, and Tom Hoge.

Seventh-ranked Adam Scott of Australia, who won the tournament in 2007, was tied for 13th at 68, PGA champion Jimmy Walker was in a tie for 30th at 69 that included sixth-ranked Jordan Spieth, rookie star Jon Rahm of Spain was tied for 66th at 71, Phil Mickelson was tied for 86th at 72 and fifth-ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden was tied for 111th at 74.

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