Cejka leads at Hilton Head

Alex Cejka wants to stay healthy this season. Playing his best golf wouldn’t hurt, either.

Germany's Alex Cejka lines up his birdie putt on the 15th green during the first round of the Verizon Heritage golf tournament

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Alex Cejka wants to stay healthy this season. Playing his best golf wouldn’t hurt, either.

Cejka, who missed more than three months last year because of neck surgery, shot his best round in nearly two years, a 7-under 64, to take a one-stroke lead at the Verizon Heritage on Thursday.

His bogey-free performance was capped by a 47-foot putt for birdie on the difficult, wind-swept 17th hole.

That left Cejka with his first first-round lead since 2006, a shot ahead of two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and two in front of last year’s Masters winner, Trevor Immelman.

“Just hopefully, everything stays well and I get healthy and practice hard,” he said.

Cejka felt pain at the British Open last summer. Over the next month, he lost most of his strength on his left side.

The diagnosis was a pinched nerve that required surgery last September to fuse vertebrae in his neck.

He only played sparingly until this season and his early results weren’t great, missing the cut three times in his first seven events.

Things perked up in March with a pair of 13th-place finishes at The Honda Classic and the Puerto Rico Open. The recovery took its biggest step yet at Harbour Town Golf Links.

He says he’s about 85 per cent healthy, but was pleased to manage Harbour Town’s tiny, quick greens and narrow, tree-lined fairways.

“You’ve got to be a little bit lucky on the small greens and stuff to hit them all,” Cejka said. “But I hit good shots today.”

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