Nate Lashley shoots 63 to take Rocket Mortgage Classic lead

DETROIT — Nate Lashley tried and failed to qualify for a spot in the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this week.

He chose to stay in Detroit, hoping to slip into the field as an alternate.

Good call.

Lashley birdied the final three holes and five of the last six for a 9-under 63 and the first-round lead Thursday at the PGA Tour’s first event in Detroit.

The 36-year-old Lashley had the lowest score in his PGA Tour career, a day after finding out he would have a chance to compete at Detroit Golf Club. Ranked 353rd in the world and No. 132 in the FedEx Cup standings, Lashley’s only top-10 finish in his two-year PGA Tour career is a tie for eighth in the Puerto Rico Open in February.

“Hopefully, can play well this week and continue to play well and lock up my card,” he said.

Ryan Armour and Nick Watney were at stroke back at 64. Chez Reavie , the Travelers Championship winner last week in Connecticut, and Charles Howell III and Stewart Cink topped the group of seven players at 65.

Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., fired a 6-under 66 to finish the day in a tie for 11th. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., shot a 4-under 68 to enter a tie for 33rd, Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., was at 3-under 69 to tie for 55th. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., had identical 2-under 70 rounds to tie for 75th. Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., was tied for 122nd at even-par 72 and Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was at 1-over 73 to tie for 131st.

Dustin Johnson, the second-ranked player in the world, opened with a 71. Gary Woodland had a 73 in his first start since winning the U.S. Open, an accomplishment that altered his career and schedule.

“I definitely didn’t get prepared as much as I like to, but that’s no excuse,” Woodland said.

Lashley made the most of the opportunity with a bogey-free round, taking advantage of scoring opportunities during a day with little wind on a short course with receptive greens. He opened with a birdie and had three more on the front nine before the closing spree.

Lashley, who is from Nebraska, had a knee injury last year that stunted his rookie season on the PGA Tour after 17 events.

“I’m just trying to play relaxed and confident golf,” he said.

There’s no chance Lashley can afford to be comfortable with the early lead.

Johnson provided proof the Donald Ross-designed course can present a challenge. The only top-10 player in the field ranked in the middle of the pack off the tee, missing five of 14 fairways. He was among the worst on approach shots, leaving him 33-plus feet away from the pin on average.

Johnson missed the green to the left on the 175-yard, par-3 fifth and his ball bounced into a bunker, forcing him to stand in the rough while squatting to get the ball out of the sand.

“It ended up in a terrible spot,” he said.

Four shots later, Johnson had his first of two double bogeys. He was 2 over at No. 11 before rallying with three birdies over the last five holes.

“I think come out (Friday) morning and shooting a good score, I’ll be back in the tournament,” he said after finishing the first round tied for 101st.

Woodland was strong late in the first round after failing to maintain any momentum from winning the first major of his career. He tied a U.S. Open record by making just four bogeys over four rounds at Pebble Beach and had that many bogeys in a four-hole stretch at Detroit Golf Club and a total of six. After falling to 5 over through 11 holes, he had four birdies over the last six to finish with a 73.

Reavie, meanwhile, picked up where he left off after winning for his first win in 11 years. He had a 4-under 32 on the front nine and was 3 under on the back, including an eagle on the 582-yard, par-5 17th.

“I’m entering the week as if I didn’t win last week,” Reavie said. “I’m out here grinding as I do every week and looking forward to the challenge. I like old-school golf courses. I like being able to work it off slopes on the greens.”

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