Atwal opens Syndham Championship with 61

If Arjun Atwal keeps this up, he’ll have a new PGA Tour card in no time.

Lucas Glover hits from a sand trap on the 15th green during the first round of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament in Greensboro

Lucas Glover hits from a sand trap on the 15th green during the first round of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament in Greensboro

GREENSBORO, N.C. — If Arjun Atwal keeps this up, he’ll have a new PGA Tour card in no time.

Atwal tied a tournament record with a 61 Thursday and took a two-stroke lead at the Wyndham Championship.

Matching Carl Pettersson’s 2-year-old mark at the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club course, Atwal was 9 under through the first round of the PGA Tour’s final event before the playoffs.

Brandt Snedeker shot a 63. John Rollins, Kevin Streelman, Lucas Glover, Boo Weekley, David Toms and Jeev Milkha Singh were at 64, and six players shot 65s during an occasionally wet day that left Sedgefield’s greens soft and its leaderboard crowded.

Bright’s Grove, Ont., native Mike Weir opened the tournament with a 3-under 67, which Saskatchewan’s Graham DeLaet matched. Matt Hill, also of Bright’s Grove, was 82nd at 1 under 69.

It was quite the encouraging start for Atwal, who lost his tour card last month and had to play his way into this event in a Monday qualifier across town at Forest Oaks Country Club — where this tournament was held from 1977-2007.

He played that course twice before, finishing sixth in 2004, and wound up shooting a 67 to share first place with three other qualifiers. No Monday qualifier has won a tournament since Fred Wadsworth did it at the 1986 Southern Open.

“You get used to making a lot of birdies in the Monday qualifier — otherwise you won’t make it,” Atwal said. “I kind of continued that today.”

The loss of his card capped a series of events that began when he injured his shoulders last year while lifting weights. He received a minor medical extension, but when he came up short on the money list following the RBC Canadian Open, his card was history.

He isn’t eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs that begin next week in New Jersey, not even if he wins. But he can claim his card for 2011 with a victory — either here or at a fall series tournament — or a climb up the money lists of the PGA or Nationwide tours.

“I prefer to win,” Atwal said with a laugh.

Three more days like this, and he’ll almost certainly take care of that.

Atwal started his bogey-free round on the back nine, made the turn at 4 under and birdied three of his final four holes, sinking a 7-foot putt on No. 9 to cap things.

His big day also included a rare birdie on the peskiest hole of the day — the 18th.

There were a course-low 10 birdies and a course-high 54 bogeys on the freshly lengthened, 507-yard par 4 that wound up knocking several players down a peg on the leaderboard.

• Jay Williamson, who birdied four of his first five holes to move to 6 under through 17, was on the 18th green in two shots but “just hit a terrible first putt” and ultimately three-putted for his second bogey of the round. He finished at 65.

• John Mallinger, who had vaulted up the leaderboard with three straight birdies midway through his back nine, birdied No. 17 to move to 6 under before finishing his 65 with a three-putt bogey.

• Toms had three straight birdies on Nos. 15-17 to go to 7 under. He recovered after sending his second shot into a greenside bunker, only to roll his par putt past the hole and bogey the hole.

• Snedeker, who was at 8 under through 17, sent his second shot onto the back fringe, chipped well past the pin and left his 35-foot par putt about 3 feet short to close with a bogey and fall off the lead.

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