Greenbrier Classic: Rookie Sebastian Munoz grabs early lead

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
Sebastian Munoz putts on No. 11 during Thursday’s opening round of the Greenbrier Classic.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Sebastian Munoz isn’t just a PGA Tour rookie. He is one with a low priority order that he has had trouble improving.

Munoz is making only his 12th start because he often gets shut out of tournaments. He “graduated” from the Tour last year, but was just 46th of 50 card-winners in the priority rankings. He’s 198th in the FedExCup point standings, a long way from salvaging his card for next season.

And, in the tradition of the Greenbrier Classic, he is atop the leaderboard.

Munoz, a 24-year-old Colombian who played collegiately at North Texas, fired a 9-under-par 61 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round. He was in the tail end of the afternoon wave, and topped the 63 posted in the morning by veteran Davis Love III.

It was the best round of golf ever for Munoz, the 2015 Conference USA champion. He shared the first-round lead at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, but finished 60th.

“Coming into this year, I had bad status,” he said. “It was a lot of sitting down and seeing a lot of golf being played without me in it. I just take it easy, you know, one tournament at a time, and do the best I can every time I show up.”

He had 10 birdies and just one bogey on Thursday. He three-putted for a par on the par-5 12th and suffered his bogey on the par-4 13th, but followed with four straight birdies.

He lipped out on a 16-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th.

His putter was the weapon of choice, however. He needed only 26 putts to get around the new greens at the Old White TPC.

Munoz said he got a lesson from Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, the Spaniard who was once among the world’s top 50 players. Munoz was reminded to keep watching the front of the ball through his stroke.

“I talked to my friend for 10 minutes, and things kind of clicked,” Munoz said. “Somehow, my eyes were tracking where my putter was going, trying really hard to be a perfect stroke. He told me, ‘Hey, man, just look at the front of the ball and just try to make contact with it.’ ”

Love birdied four of the first five holes and went through the round without a bogey. He hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation, and his misses weren’t harmful. He chipped in from 46 feet for a birdie on No. 17.

The 53-year-old has played in all seven Classics, and the 63 was his best effort. In fact, he only has four rounds of 62 or 63 in his career.

Did the 21-time Tour winner see it coming?

“Based on recent scoring average, no,” Love said. “Based on good attitude, yeah. I’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks on trying to fix my swing to kind of swing around a stiff back and stiff hip.”

Six players are tied at 64, including defending champion Danny Lee. The others are David Lingmerth, Graham DeLaet, tour rookie Xander Schauffele, Nick Taylor and Ben Martin.

Lee joined Love and eight other golfers who had bogey-free rounds. The New Zealander birdied four holes on the back nine, and toured the course in 27 putts.

Lee successfully avoided any distractions from playing in the tournament’s marquee threesome.

“Just kept my head down,” he said. “Just tried to play my game, because I was playing with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. That was a very crowded round.”

Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or Follow him on Twitter @dougsmock.

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