MEMPHIS, Tenn. — David Mathis is leading a PGA Tour event for the first time, and pressure is not one of his concerns.
His focus is on three more days of golf.
Mathis matched his best round ever on the PGA Tour, shooting a 5-under 65 Thursday to grab the lead at the St. Jude Classic. The 37-year-old North Carolina native is only in his second year on the PGA Tour and had to play his way back by finishing 13th on the Nationwide Tour money list last year.
He jumped to the top of the leaderboard late in the first round, finishing with six birdies and one late bogey. He hadn’t shot 65 on tour since 2009 when he went that low three different times.
“I don’t feel stressed or uncomfortable in the position,” Mathis said. “I know there’s tons of golf left. I’m just trying to keep poise about me I guess I would say while I play and recognize that, ’Hey, there’s lots of holes to play between now and Sunday,’ and so just take it for what it is. Be thankful for a good round and try to reproduce it for the next three days.”
Robert Karlsson, who lost a four-hole playoff here a year ago, shot a 66 and was tied with John Merrick, Kris Blanks, Colt Knost and Kevin Kisner. Knost had the only bogey-free round of the day.
Keegan Bradley and Fabian Gomez each had 67s. Bradley is among the few here who could play their way into the U.S. Open by winning at the TPC Southwind for a second tour victory since the last Open. Bradley won the Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago.
Retief Goosen and Boo Weekley were among a group with 68s. Defending champion Lee Westwood opened with a 69.
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Calgary’s Stephen Ames opened at 1-under 69 and were in a tie for 19th. Matt McQuillan of Kingston, Ont., shot even-par 70, Calgary’s Chris Baryla was at 2-over 72 and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., carded 3-over 73.
Mathis turned pro in 1997 after leaving Campbell University. He started playing mini tours and was on the Canadian tour before switching to the Nationwide circuit. He first joined the PGA Tour in 2009 when he posted a pair of top-25 finishes, including a tie for 23rd in Memphis.
But he wound up back on the Nationwide Tour last year. St. Jude, sponsored by FedEx, is his 14th event on the PGA Tour this year and No. 45 for his career.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ’How long you been playing? Like 13 years or something like that?’ I was like, ’Really?” Mathis said. “So anyway obviously the time flies, but you know it’s been an enjoyable ride coming from that . . . makes me appreciate playing out here for sure.”
Mathis, who is from Winston-Salem, N.C., credited a visit with his coach Patrick Kelley this week for helping straighten out his line when putting. He noticed the difference almost immediately when he started on the back nine and rolled in a nine-footer to save par.
“That just kind of jump-started my day and you know just had some confidence,” Mathis said. “I was driving the ball in the fairway and hitting irons in spots I was looking to hit them and you know just added up to a 65 thankfully.”
He made a birdie putt on the par-3 No. 11 from just inside 19 feet, plus eight-footers for birdies on Nos. 13 and 16. He converted a 15-footer for birdie on No. 2 to join the pack tied at 4 under.
Mathis had the lead to himself when he hit a wedge on the par-5 No. 3 to within 13 feet, then made another birdie. He padded his advantage with a four-footer on No. 5 for his sixth birdie.
His lone bogey came on No. 8, when he three-putted from within 8 feet.
Karlsson started off the front nine with three birdies on his first six holes. But the Swede hit his tee shot on the par-4 No. 13 into a fairway bunker and wound up bogeying the hole to fall back to 2 under.
He got the stroke back with a birdie on the par-3 No. 14, rolling in from 18 feet. He also had a 19-footer for birdie on No. 15, but came up a couple feet short.