India’s Anirban Lahiri overcame a sluggish start to fire a solid 4-under 68 and lie three strokes off the early first-round lead at the Valero Texas Open on Thursday.
Lahiri, who finished runner-up at THE PLAYERS Championship three weeks ago, was 1-over through 10 holes at TPC San Antonio before powering home with five birdies, thanks largely to a putter which warmed up down the stretch.
Scotland’s Russell Knox opened with a 65 to lead the US$.8.6 million PGA TOUR event.
The 34-year-old Lahiri is attempting to win a career first title in the U.S. after coming agonisingly close at the TOUR’s flagship tournament at TPC Sawgrass, and victory on Sunday would also secure a spot in next week’s Masters Tournament.
“Today was about trying to find the same kind of rhythm to my routine, rhythm to how I was swinging the club. The body still feels a bit rusty. When I started, it was a bit cold and there was bit of moisture on the surface and I was trying to get a good feel and speed of the greens,” said Lahiri.
“I definitely wanted to get back into my rhythm after being away and battling an infection I picked up from my daughter. I was laid off in bed fir a few days and didn’t play that much golf but I didn’t really hit a lot of bad shots.”
Starting from the 10th, Lahiri navigated his opening 10 holes with two bogeys against a lone birdie before his putter started to find its range. He rolled in a nine-footer on the second, a 23-footer on the fifth and then nailed three successive birdies from nine, 18 and 30 feet respectively to close out his round in style.
“On the back nine, I found the speed of the greens. I’ve played this course quite a bit and I understand the nature of this course . You try to just put yourself in good positions and places where you can make aggressive swings and aggressive putts. If you can do that, you can make a couple of birdies. The putter got a little warmer and it was a nice bonus on the last to get a long one which feels really good,” said Lahiri, who finished solo fifth at TPC San Antonio last season.
Despite the high of his stellar finish at THE PLAYERS, Lahiri intends to keep his foot on the pedal a bid to regain his place amongst golf’s elite. He was ranked as high as 33rd on the Official World Golf Ranking in 2015 and featured in the Presidents Cup twice for the International Team.
“THE PLAYERS Championship was fantastic and it’s in the past now. It’s time to move on and try to be in the present which was pretty much what I did. I’m just trying to do the same, stay in the present, stay in the now, do what I need to do, what I need to feel, what I need to work on. I’m just trying to get back to that and it’s nice to see my golf responding,” said Lahiri.
South Korea’s Si Woo Kim and C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei got off to good starts at the Valero Texas Open with matching 69s. Despite missing six greens in regulation, Pan, who is a one-time TOUR winner, kept the bogeys off his card while Kim posted five birdies against two bogeys. Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, who will defend his Masters title next week, opened with a 74 in what is his first appearance since withdrawing from THE PLAYERS Championship due to a back injury.