Jay Williamson, whose inept play in this event last year prompted laughter from the gallery, birdied his last four holes Thursday to tie Scott McCarron and Billy Andrade for the first-round lead at the Kemper Open.
Finishing on the front nine before a sparse crowd in the next-to-last group of the day, Williamson sank putts of 5, 6, 12 and 6 feet for a 5-under-par 66, easily his best round of the year."I tell you, there's been a lot of dark days in recent months," said Williamson, who has missed the cut in five of his last eight tournaments. "Today was going so well I told my caddie, `I wonder if they'll let me keep playing here.' It was nice, quiet, peaceful. There weren't a whole lot of people harassing me."
That was in stark contrast from last year, when Williamson shot a 78 and 82 and went home on Saturday.
"I was walking down the back nine and people were laughing at me," said Williamson, who had to go back to qualifying school at the end of last year to keep his tour card. "They flashed my score up. People were saying, `Hey I can do better than that.' I thought about it when I got here on Monday."
Six players - Brad Fabel, Brad Faxon, Mike Sullivan, Mark O'Meara, Chris Smith and Bob Gilder - were one shot off the lead on a beautiful, sunny day when the fairways were soft and the greens slow at the TPC at Avenel course.
For Andrade and McCarron, the 17th hole provided the day's excitement. Andrade, who won this tournament five years ago and at the Buick Classic the week after and hasn't won since, held a three-stroke lead at 7-under when he teed up at the 195-yard par-3.
"I was pumped up. I was making a bunch of birdies in a row, and the wind was up a little bit more than I thought," Andrade said. "I just hit it a little too good."
Andrade's 7-iron tee shot went beyond the green and onto the back slope of a sand trap. He got a bogey, and followed with another one followed at 18, where a photographer forced him to back off just as he was about to putt for par.
"I'm trying to learn to not let those things affect me," said Andrade, who said he flashed back to a similar incident when he was near the lead at the Greater Greensboro Open last month. "I hit the putt the way I wanted to; it just didn't go in. I'm not going to blame (him). Hey, we're big guys out here. I understand the guy's trying to do his job, and I'd like to see him know his job a little better."
LPGA Corning Classic
CORNING, N.Y. - Amy Benz shot a 6-under-par 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Liselotte Neumann, Val Skinner and Rosie Jones after the first round of the LPGA Corning Classic.
Danielle Ammacapane and Vicki Goetze were in group at 68 and defending champion Alison Nicholas opened with a 70 on the Corning Country Club course.