Steve Stricker, Ernie Els of South Africa and Stephen Alker of New Zealand scored 5 under 67 to form a three-way balance and led in the first round of Insperity Invitational Friday at The Woodlands Country Club (Texas).
All three co-workers collected six birds and one bullet a day. They lead eight players who are fourth behind the top 4 out of 68, in a group that includes Schwab Cup money leader Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain.
Stricker competed for the first time after a viral illness hospitalized him in the winter and resulted in a loss of 25 pounds. He credited his scratching with his low round.
“I don’t usually go to tournaments when I’m not ready,” Stricker said. “I came here not very ready and it was sometimes, but I also come here with high expectations to play well. And I put a few decent points in Orlando (his winter home) when I play, but my thinking still has to come here and compete. “
Els inflicted four birds on the front nine and added two more on the back nine on two pairs of 5 holes, 13th and 15th. He held the lead in the solo at 6 below to par-4 18th hole when the scarecrow threw him away.
“I did a few punches, and you know, it made a difference,” said Els, a four-time top winner. “Take the ball into the hole, you get the momentum, you can get the score on the board, so you have to keep going.”
Alker, who divided his six birds equally between the front and rear nine, noted that the wind intensified and played an important role in the afternoon.
“A gust of wind arose in front of a couple of holes and then behind. I made a couple of iron shots, it was like wow. Especially at the entrance with the ponds, 17, you just didn’t know what the wind was doing. So I guessed a little bit, but I just tried to play a little long, just took half the baton extra and it worked well. “
Incumbent champion Mike Weir of Canada opened with a score of 1 to 71.