Jerry Kelly leads the way at the PGA TOUR Champions Dominion Energy Charity Classic after he fired a 7-under 65 in the opening round at the Country Club of Virginia in Richmond.
Kelly, who’s fourth in the Schwab Cup Playoff standings, has opened a two-stroke lead over a group of four players that included Miguel Angel Jimenez, who’s fifth in the race for the cup.
Pádraig Harrington is three shots adrift on four-under after a 68. Harrington was in the final group alongside Kelly and current Schwab Cup leader Steven Alker as he looks to overtake the latter in the next three events.
The three-time major champion had climbed to five-under-par courtesy of birdies on the 2nd, 6th, 9th, 10th, 12th and 16th. But a costly double-bogey on the par-3 17th saw him drop back into the pack on -3. The US Senior Open champion responded instantly with a birdie on 18 that will soften the blow of the previous hole in what was only his second blemish of the day.
Senior Open champion Darren Clarke is a shot further back on three-under after a 69. After a rocky start of two birdies and two pars in his first four holes, the 2011 Open champion was faultless.
Birdies at the seventh, tenth and sixteenth saw him turn an average day into a good one as he hunts two wins in the next three weeks to try and win his maiden Schwab Cup.
The opening day was undoubtedly about Kelly however, who was bogey-free in his sublime first round and he was delighted to get out of the blocks early.
“Yeah, I mean, I love great starts, but that’s all they are is great starts,” Kelly said. “I’d love to be in the lead and have a great finish, that would be really cool. Yeah, as long as I can stay in position, it’s just trying to close it out on Sunday.
“You know, I did everything really well. I didn’t keep my concentration for every single shot, I lost it on that last putt. I was just kind of whatever, it’s bugging me but I’m going to go ahead and hit it anyway and that happens. It just teaches you a lesson right away. Things are going great, putting fantastic, you lose your concentration, that’s what happens.
“You can put yourself so far back that odds are way against you, but being in this position doesn’t do anything except for give you the confidence that you just keep playing the way you’re playing and you should be in pretty good shape, fighting for it at least coming down the stretch.”
Only the top 54 players in the Schwab Cup standings will advance to the next event, the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. The top 36 after that advance to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix with Harrington and Clarke assured to be part of that travelling party.
Schwab Cup leader Alker finished at 3 under, in a contingent of eight players tied for 15th in a round he let get away from him after three birdies in his first six.
“It was a bit scratchy today,” said Alker, who hit only eight of 14 fairways to rank 54th in the field in driving accuracy. “Got off to a nice start, I was hitting the ball pretty decent, hit some close shots, but the back nine just didn’t quite get my tee balls in position, missed a few greens. I just kind of scrambled a little bit, didn’t take advantage of the par 5s. Yeah, I kind of felt like I left a little bit out there.”
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