Thursday, April 26, 2012


By Staff and wire reports
AVONDALE, Louisiana-- Ken Duke and Cameron Tringale topped the Zurich Classic of New Orleans leaderboard at 7-under 65 on Thursday, leaving defending champion Bubba Watson six strokes back at TPC Louisiana in his first tournament since winning the Masters.
Tringale birdied the final four holes and finished the round with eight birdies and a bogey. Duke had seven birdies in a bogey-free round. Both players are winless on the US PGA Tour.
"My game felt really nice for quite some time and don't know how to explain it," Tringale said. "Just playing with a little confidence and it goes a long way in this game. ... When I had chances to make birdies I was making them and made a couple 20-footers as well. So, turned into a good day."
Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Daniel Chopra and Chris Stroud were a stroke back at 66. Ben Curtis, the Valero Texas Open winner Sunday in San Antonio, was another shot behind along with John Rollins and Jason Dufner.
Webb Simpson, a playoff loser last year in the event, had a 68.
Watson had four birdies and three bogeys in his 71.
Watson, playing the back nine first, was 2 over through the first seven holes. He birdied the par-5 18th and followed with three more birdies and a bogey on the front nine.
"I'm very exhausted, tough trying to play golf today," said Watson, who took a two-week break after the Masters. "I can't hit a full swing yet."
Inverness exile Russell Knox is joint 15th after a 69 which included birdies at the long second, the fourth, the long seventh, the eighth, the 10th and the 12th. He had to settle for pars at the last six holes. His only bogeys were back to back at the fifth and sixth.
World No. 2 Luke Donald opened with a 73.
The Englishman, who needs a top seven finish to regain the top spot from Rory McIlroy who is not playing in this week's event, could only manage a one-over-par effort and is eight shots off the pace.
Donald made three visits to the water and four birdies couldn't repair the damage inflicted by three bogeys and a double.
Tringale, coming off eighth-place finishes in the Shell Houston Open and at TPC San Antonio, made the turn at 2 under and had a 5-under 31 on the back nine, highlighted by a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th and a 20-footer on the difficult par-3 17th.
Duke, attempting to make the most of his opportunity after a two-year exile on the Nationwide Tour, made three consecutive birdies on the front nine to make the turn at 3 under and birdied the par-5 11th and par-4 12th to get it to 5 under. He added birdies on the par-4 16th and par-5 18th.
"The greens were good. Weren't too fast," Duke said. "You can't have them too fast here because of the wind and it will really will smack you. They're hole-able, receptive. The course is in good shape, great shape."
Chopra, a two-time tour winner who has failed to make a cut this season, put himself in position to regain full-time status. The 66 was his first round in the 60s this season.
"The game has been fine, the results have been frustrating," he said. "The harder you press in this game the tougher it gets and when you get momentum going one way or the other, it's hard to break it, and I've been handling it the wrong way."
Stricker, playing alongside Watson and Simpson, birdied four of his final five holes and saved his round with a nifty up and down on his final hole, the par-3 ninth. After his tee shot landed short and right of the green, he chipped to 7 feet and made the putt.
"Getting up and down was a good momentum saver and a good way to finish the round," Stricker said.
He was pleased to have a front-row seat for Watson's return.
"It was interesting to see how he was going to play," Stricker said. "I'm sure the last two weeks have been a whirlwind I'm sure he's tired, I'm sure his focus isn't quite there."
Els, playing in New Orleans for the first time since missing the cut in 2002, made the turn at 5 under, but lost a bit of momentum with a bogey on the par-3 17th. He rebounded with a birdie on his closing hole.
"It was a tough day. You had to be on your game," said Els, who has two top-five finishes in his past four starts. "Good start and just kept at it."
Par 72
Players from US unless stated
65 Ken Duke, Cameron Tringale
66 Daniel Chopra (Sweden), Steve Stricker, Ernie Els (S Africa), Chris Stroud
67 Ben Curtis, John Rollins, Jason Duffner.

69 Graeme McDowell (N Ireland), Russell Knox (Scotland) (T15)
70 Greg Owen (England) (T33)
71 Brian Davis (England) (T49)
72 Justin Rose (England) (T69)
73 Luke Donald (England) (T102)
75 Gary Christian (England) (T133)





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