Brendan Steele posted a bogey-free 9-under-par 63 to take a one-stroke lead over Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela after one round of the Frys.com Open, opening event of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, on the North Course at Silverado Country Club in Napa.
Steele, who grew up in Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California and played at UC Riverside, started at No. 10 and birdied seven of the last eight holes on the back nine before adding birdies at Nos. 5 and 6.
“It’s funny how this game works, because I was happy being at home and I didn’t know how I would feel when I got here, but when I pulled into (Silverado) on Monday I was ready to go,” said Steele, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2011 Valero Texas Open. “My game started feeling good on Tuesday and even better (on Wednesday), so I kind of saw this coming.
“The weather here is great and being a West Coast guy, it’s really good to start this part of the PGA Tour season out here, and then the next part (in January), too.”
Vegas, who also has only one victory on the PGA Tour in the 2011 Bob Hope Classic, collected seven birdies, a single bogey and sank a three-foot eagle putt on the fifth hole after a brilliant shot from 204 yards in his 64.
Harold Varner III, who earned his card last season on the Web.com Tour, made an 18-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole and was another shot back at 65 in a tie for third with Martin Laird of Scotland, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who birdied four of the last seven holes in a bogey-free 65.
Justin Thomas, one of the top rookies on the circuit last season, opened with a 66 and was tied for fifth with D.H. Lee of South Korea, who holed his second shot from 141 yards for an eagle on the 14th hole en route to his 66.
Jason Gore of Valencia and Pepperdine holed a 19-foot eagle on the 18th hole and shot 67 to tie for seventh with Justin Rose of England, Russell Henley, Graham DeLaet of Canada, Daniel Summerhays and Scott Langley.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, started with a 68 and was in a tie for 13th that included Patrick Rodgers of Stanford, Nick Watney of Davis and Fresno State, Kevin Na of Diamond Bar and rookie Emiliano Grillo of Argentina.