Rickie Fowler fires 64 to claim first-round lead at Houston Open
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 02/04/17 12:11am
Rickie Fowler's all-round game looked in great shape ahead of next week's Masters as he opened the Shell Houston Open with a flawless 64.
Fowler got off to a flying start with five birdies over his first seven holes, and he picked up his eighth shot of the day at the ninth - his last - to claim the outright lead ahead of Sung Kang, while Justin Rose lifted his confidence ahead of the first major of the year with an excellent 67.
Jordan Spieth overcame a rocky start to card a 69, but Open champion Henrik Stenson faces a tough task to avoid a second consecutive missed cut after an erratic 74.
Fowler took full advantage of good scoring conditions early on, rolling in a 10-foot putt for birdie at the 10th which set the tone for his round as he raced to five under after seven holes.
The world No 9 knocked another precise iron in close at the third and converted for birdie, and he added another at the long fourth before capping a superb day with a 232-yard tee-shot to five feet at the ninth which ensured he would end the round on top of the leaderboard.
Kang reeled off four birdies in a row over the front nine and joined Fowler in a share of the lead when he rolled in his fourth birdie putt after the turn at the 17th, although the South Korean slipped back when he three-putted the final green to sign for a 65.
Former Open champion Stewart Cink, whose wife Lisa is battling breast cancer, made a welcome appearance at the right end of the leaderboard as he carded a 66 and kept a bogey off his card.
Cink was joined on six-under by Jhonattan Vegas and Kyle Stanley, with Rose a stroke further adrift following a sparkling run of birdies in the middle of his round.
Rose found water at the fourth and ran up a bogey-six, but he clawed back the shot with a superb approach to four feet at the next before the Englishman made five consecutive birdies from the ninth, including a sublime chip-in for a three at the 11th.
He got to six under with another gain at the long 15th, but that was offset by a poor tee shot at the next and he parred the final two holes to remain three strokes adrift of the leader.
Rose's playing partner Spieth was one over after seven holes before getting under the card with birdies at eight and nine, and he picked up further shots at the two par-fives on the back nine to get within five of Fowler.
With this week's winner guaranteed a place in the field at Augusta National next week, Andy Sullivan gave himself a chance to earn a Masters return as he opened with a six-birdie 68, while Luke Donald struggled to make much happen as he carded two birdies and one bogey in a workmanlike 71.
Fan-favourite Andrew "Beef" Johnston was well placed on two under before he dropped three shots over the last five holes, and compatriot Chris Wood also laboured to a disappointing 73.