Finau gets a grip with first round lead at Colonial

Tony Finau of the United States plays a shot from a bunker on the fifth hole during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas. — AFP

LOS ANGELES — Tony Finau set the first round pace at the Charles Schawb Challenge on Thursday, reaping the rewards from a change of putting grip to card a blistering six-under-par 64 and claim the lead at Colonial Country Club in Texas.

The world No. 15 took a one-shot lead after posting seven birdies and one bogey as he chases only his second PGA Tour victory.

Finau, who managed a fifth place finish in the Masters last month but struggled in the PGA Championship, finishing tied in 64th, started slowly before making back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes.

His opening birdie on the third came after he rolled in a 19-foot putt, and he backed it up on the par-three fourth by sticking his tee shot to within three feet for a simple tap-in.

A bogey on the fifth threatened to check Finau's momentum, but he responded with back-to-back birdies on the 7th and 8th holes to reach the turn at three under.

A hat-trick of birdies on the 11th, 12th and 13th saw Finau vault up the leaderboard.

Once again, the 29-year-old relied on a red-hot putter to pick up shots, draining putts of 24 feet and 26 feet to bag his final two birdies of the day.

Finau, who also saved a par by making a 30-foot putt during his round, later revealed he had changed his putting grip after a disappointing showing in the PGA last week.

"I haven't been putting great I feel like, and standing over the ball the most important thing is, 'Do you feel like you're going to make the putt or not?,'" Finau said.

"Outside of everything else, 'Do you believe you can make the putt?' So for me, I needed to switch something."

Jordan Spieth and Roger Sloan meanwhile were a shot back from Finau after both posting five-under-par 65s.

Spieth, coming off a share of third place at the PGA Championship last week, had a wild round comprised of eight birdies, a double bogey and a bogey.

The 25-year-old Texan managed to finish with a flourish however, with a birdie on his final hole of the day.

Spieth believes his recent form indicates a protracted slump may be over. "I know what I have needed to work on and I knew it was going to take a lot of time," Spieth said.

"It's nice to see some results off what I believe is the progress I've been making. At the same time, it's one round. I've got to keep my head down and keep working."

Spieth and Sloan are two ahead of nine players tied on three under.

Woods to play Memorial

ahead of US Open

Tiger Woods confirmed Thursday that he will play next week's Memorial Tournament as he aims to rediscover his best form ahead of next month's US Open, tournament organizers said.

Woods, who bagged a dramatic 15th major title at the Masters last month, was brought back down to earth with a bump last week after missing the cut at the US PGA Championship.

The tournament at Bethpage Black was the first competitive Golf Woods had played since his emotional victory at Augusta — his first major title in 11 years — and the American said he had not practiced enough leading into the tournament.

"Just don't feel well and just not able to do it. But resting would be better, so I would have energy to play," he said. However he expressed optimism that he could rediscover his best form.

"There's no reason why I can't get up to speed again and crank it back up," he added.

"I've got to start feeling a little bit better first before that happens. We'll do that first and then start cranking it back up again."

Woods has added the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio to his schedule in order to get more rounds in ahead of the US Open, which is being held between June 13-16 at Pebble Beach in California.

The 43 -year-old will be making his 17th appearance the invitational tournament hosted by Golf legend Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

He most recently won the event in 2012, when he chipped in for birdie on the event's 70th hole to claim his 73rd PGA Tour victory. — AFP