Washington (AFP) – Britain’s Justin Rose fired a seven-under par 63 Thursday to seize the early lead as the US PGA Tour ended a 91-day coronavirus shutdown and paid tribute to George Floyd.
Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, birdied seven of his first 12 holes then closed with six pars to grab a one-stroke clubhouse lead over Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
No spectators were allowed at Colonial, which featured increased safety measures such as social distancing and temperature taking in the wake of the deadly disease outbreak.
World number one Rory McIlroy, second-ranked Jon Rahm and third-ranked Brooks Koepka were set to tee off in the feature afternoon group in Fort Worth, Texas.
Spain’s Rahm could overtake four-time major winner McIlroy for the top spot with a win if the Northern Ireland star finishes in a four-way tie for second or solo third or worse.
The event observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. for George Floyd, whose killing by a white policeman in Minnesota sparked worldwide protests over racial and social injustice.
The time, 8:46, represents the eight minutes and 46 seconds in which the policeman held a knee to the back of the handcuffed black man.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stood in silence at the first tee while three short air horn blasts halted play across the course as well as work on the practice putting green and driving range.
Prime scoring conditions greeted players with sunny skies and little to no wind.
England’s Rose, who turns 40 next month, began on the back nine and opened with a 25-foot birdie putt at 10, then added a birdie from eight feet at the 12th and followed by sinking an 18-footer for birdie at the par-3 13th.
The reigning Olympic champion struck again at the par-3 16th, holing a 12-foot birdie putt, and then ran off three birdies in a row to begin his second nine — making a four-foot putt at the par-5 first, a six-footer at the second and a 13-footer at the par-4 third.
Vegas, another 10th tee starter, sank a 21-foot birdie putt at 12 and ran off four in a row starting with a six-foot birdie putt at 17 and an 18-footer at 18, followed by tap-in birdies at the first and second.
The South American put his approach at the fifth three feet from the pin and made the birdie putt to pull within one of Rose, but missed the green and made bogey at the par-3 eighth before closing with a 21-foot birdie putt at the ninth.