Akshay Bhatia shoots 64 in Detroit to take 1st-round lead at Rocket Mortgage Classic

DETROIT (AP) — Akshay Bhatia closed strong enough in the opening round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic that he surged atop the leaderboard, and yet he knows no lead is safe at the Detroit Golf Club.

Bhatia chipped in for eagle from 83 feet on the 17th hole and ended with a birdie for an 8-under 64 Thursday, giving him a one-shot cushion that isn’t comfortable.

“It’s always nice to finish like that,” he said. “This tournament’s always kind of a birdie fest, so birdies and eagles help a lot.”

Tony Finau set the tournament record, winning at 26 under two years ago, and Rickie Fowler needed to win in a playoff last year when 24 under wasn’t good enough through 72 holes.

The 22-year-old Bhatia, the Texas Open winner in April for his second PGA Tour title, was 6 under over his last six holes in the first round. He tied for fifth last week in Connecticut, where he was in the final group that was disrupted by climate protesters storming the 18th green.

Taylor Montgomery and Michael Kim were a stroke back.

Montgomery had a 6-under 30 on his front nine and added one more birdie on the back in a bogey-free round. He was pleasantly surprised by his performance, playing for the first time since withdrawing from the Byron Nelson in early May due to injured shoulders.

“I was more nervous today than I have been on the golf course in forever just because I felt so unprepared,” Montgomery said, adding he had played just four times in two months.

Fowler shot 66, closing with three straight birdies much to the delight of the tournament’s sponsor that pays him to be a brand ambassador.

“There’s always that little extra pressure partly from being a partner with Rocket and being the defending champion here,” Fowler said.

Will Zalatoris, Aaron Rai, Eric Cole and Matti Schmid also were at 66.

Cameron Young and Neal Shipley, making his PGA Tour debut, were another shot back.

The 23-year-old Shipley, who was the low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open, was 2 over after eight holes, then played the final 10 in 7 under. He eagled the par-4 first and had five five straight birdies on Nos. 4-8.

The event includes just 10 of the world’s top 50 players, with Bhatia ranked 31st.

Tom Kim, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 16, lost in a playoff to Scottie Scheffler last week and may have shown signs of fatigue in his ninth consecutive tournament.

Kim shot a 73 and will have to bounce back with a strong round to make the cut on a short course with receptive greens that is ripe for birdies.

A pair of notable amateurs played on the PGA Tour for the first time.

Luke Clanton, who set a Florida State record with a scoring average of 69.3, has a shot to make it to the weekend after an opening 69.

Miles Russell is talented enough to earn a sponsor exemption after becoming the youngest player in Korn Ferry Tour history to make a cut. At 15, though, he’s not old enough to drive the courtesy car provided by the tournament and technically isn’t permitted to enter the men’s locker room at Detroit Golf Club.

The baby-faced Russell looks his age, saying he’s “probably” 5-oot-7 and weighs “maybe” 120 pounds, but his game is mature.

Russell calmed his nerves well enough to hit his first drive 305 yards to the middle of the fairway, but his approach from 119 yards landed in a greenside bunker to set up a bogey.

He went on to make some par-saving putts before carding his first birdie on his 12th hole only to give strokes back with a double bogey three holes later.

“Should have been nervous all day,” he said after shooting a 74. “It was a good day, settled in nicely.”


AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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