Palm Harbor: England`s Paul Casey fired a bogey-free seven-under par 64 on to seize a two-stroke lead in the darkness-halted opening round of the USD 5.5 million PGA Transitions Championship.
Casey, who began on the back nine, on Thursday birdied three of his last five holes to stay atop Scotsman Martin Laird and Americans Scott Stallings, Garrett Willis and Nick Watney, who was a World Golf Championship winner last Sunday at Doral.
The Englishman birdied the par-5 11th and 14th and gained a stroke at the par-4 12th as well. Casey birdied the second before sizzling at the finish with birdies on par-5 fifth, par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth to take the lead.
"Best ball-striking round of the year," Casey said. "Bogey-free is always nice. And the state of my game is going in the right direction."
An early fog delay led to play being halted with the last three players needing to finish two holes Friday morning, none of them being within six strokes of the lead.
Casey, playing in his seventh event in nine weeks, changed his focus a bit this year with regard to scheduling in a bid to improve his chances at claiming that elusive first major title, with the Masters looming in only three weeks.
"I try and manage the schedule so I`m as fresh as I can be for majors," Casey said. "I wanted to get as prepared as I could for the majors.”
"If you look at my history in terms of how I`ve played, sometimes after victories, I`ve always struggled after victories. I don`t know why. Fatigued, whatever it is. But I`ve performed poorly.”
"So we want to go back to sort of being nice and fresh going into majors ... It`s not something that`s going to be permanent. I wanted to try it this year and see how it went. Seven in nine weeks has been a lot and I must admit, I`m looking forward to two weeks off."
Watney, also starting off the 10th tee, birdied the first three holes of his second nine to stand on seven under but bogeys at the par-3 fourth and eighth dropped him back.
Willis had four birdies in a row while Stallings had three in a row at one stage while Laird scattered five birdies in a bogey-free round of 66.
Australian John Senden was in a group sharing sixth on 67 after penalizing himself when he saw his ball move slightly while swinging on his second shot on an upslope at the par-5 fifth hole, where he took the first of back-to-back bogeys.
"I was basically right in my backswing and the ball just moved like probably a quarter of an inch, rolled slowly back," Senden said. "By the time it started moving back, I was committed to hit the shot and I just hit it.”
"Went to the official and asked what`s the rule. He said hit your shot and add one. So I was unlucky on that shot. I got a little bit distracted on the next hole from it, but then I knuckled down.”
"Turned it around nicely (with birdies) on seven and nine and then it played well around the back nine. I just had to settle down after that incident and still play."
Senden`s call pointed to the trust golfers have in each other to police themselves.
"You have to do the right thing with this game of golf," Senden said. "It`s about honesty and I feel that with that particular incident that happened, you`ve got to treat yourself well."
Also in the group at 67 was South African Rory Sabbatini, playing for his 10th week in a row with the Masters only three weeks away.
"This is definitely the first time in my career I`ve done that," Sabbatini said. "All in all, the body is holding up. The brain is holding up. That was the bigger question -- how would my nerves be 10 weeks on the road?"
World number one Martin Kaymer of Germany opened on 68 after three birdies, two bogeys and an eagle on the opening hole, his 10th of the day.
"I made a couple of mistakes because I was not 100 percent sure about the course," Kaymer said. "I missed on the wrong side. So if I can avoid those things tomorrow, it would be nice."