RICHMOND, Texas -- Gary Christian overcame back spasms,
Andrew Buckle rallied with five consecutive birdies and Cliff
Kresge made a late eagle Thursday to grab shares of the first-round
lead in the Nationwide Tour Championship.
Christian, Buckle and Kresge opened with 5-under 67s in the
season-ending event at The Houstonian. The winner will earn
$135,000, while the season money champion will be fully exempt on
the 2007 PGA Tour and earn a spot in The Players Championship. Nos.
2-22 on the final money list will be conditionally exempt on the
PGA Tour and Nos. 23-37 will get spots in the final stage of the
National Qualifying Tournament.
"Sometimes it's a matter of survival," Buckle said. "Today I
tried to think my way around the golf course. I get in my own way
quite a bit but I stayed out of my way today. I didn't get
Buckle, 18th on the money list at $211,976, was 2 over after
five holes. He lost a ball on No. 3 and hooked his tee shot on No.
5 for bogeys. But he made putts of 15 feet on No. 6 and 20 feet on
No. 9 for birdies, then moved to the back side with four straight
birdies, including a 20-footer on the par-4 13th. He pitched within
a foot on No. 16 for his final birdie.
Kresge, fourth on the money list with $321,013, had five birdies
and two bogeys and the eagle on the par-5 16th that pulled him into
a tie for the lead. His big putt went 30 feet.
"My game is at a good place," Kresge said. "I'm swinging as
well now as I have in the last couple of years. I came here to win
the golf tournament and to take care of business."
Kresge had to play with an inflamed right toe that required a
"I had to walk on the side of my foot," Kresge said. "They
told me it would be better tomorrow and Saturday. I thought if I
could get through today, I'd be OK and I had a pretty good round."
Christian, 58th with $103,375, almost didn't get into the
tournament. He had severe back spasms Tuesday and managed to tee up
for the first round after a visit to a doctor and a chiropractor.
"Coming here Tuesday I didn't even think I would be playing,"
Christian said. "I got a back spasm and couldn't do much Tuesday
and nothing on Wednesday. I felt a little stiff today but I knew I
could play. So 67 was a pretty nice performance considering what it
could have been."
Christian earned a spot in the tournament with a 10th-place
finish two weeks ago in the Miccosukee Championship in Miami and he
kept up his strong play in the opening round at The Houstonian.
He birdied the opening hole, made a 20-foot par putt on the
third hole and birdied the par-3 fourth. He was 2 under after a
bogey on No. 13 before charging home with birdies on three of the
final five holes.
Christian had birdie putts of 15 and 6 feet on 16 and 17 and had
a 15-foot putt to save par on the final hole for his 5-under round.
Ken Duke, the money leader with $369,318, shot a 70.