Wilson leads Chrysler Classic with 8-under 64

Updated: February 23, 2006, 9:06 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz.-- If history has any bearing, this could be a really big weekend for Mark Wilson.

The Wisconsin native shot an opening-round 64 to take the lead Thursday at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, two shots ahead of Doug Barron, Gabriel Hjertstedt, Jerry Kelly, John Riegger and Duffy Waldorf.

Wilson's 8-under was anchored by a 30 on the front nine. He started the tournament on the 10th tee, made the turn at 2-under and got rolling with an eagle on No. 2, a tricky par-5 with a narrow fairway and an undulating green.

Wilson drained a 28-foot putt and then logged birdies on the third, fourth, seventh and ninth holes at par-72 Tucson National. A bogey at No. 18 was the only blemish on what he called one of the best rounds of his career.

"All of a sudden, it went in from everywhere," Wilson said. "It was a tale of two nines. If I could have rolled in some birdie putts early and not made a silly bogey at 18, this could have been something real special. But I'm still happy with what it is."

The Chrysler Classic has had a first-time champion 14 times, including five of the last six years. Wilson would be a perfect candidate to extend the streak.

He spent five years on the mini-tours and twice survived qualifying school. With his conditional status, he knows which tournaments will accept him and often works the Monday qualifying rounds.

"Two weeks before, 15 guys will commit and I'm out," Wilson said. "But if I can keep shooting 64 here, things will change quick."

Wilson credited a coaching change last July for a late-season surge and his fast start in Tucson. He led the Texas Open late in the third round last September before finishing tied for third, one of his three Top 10 finishes that month.

Another key, Wilson said, was conquering what he calls "the ego thing." He stands 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, but Wilson often is tempted to pull out a 3-wood when a second shot must travel 250 yards and carry a water hazard.

"The smart thing is to chip a 7-iron down there and leave it to good wedge yardage," he said. "The ego gets in the way. I want to join those long hitters, but I think I've matured to where most of the time I make the right decision."

Hjertstedt was one of Tucson's first-time champions, winning in 1999 during his up-and-down career. His bogey-free 66 was a thrill, he said, after his struggles on the Nationwide Tour the past three years, including only one Top 10 finish last season.

"It's difficult," said Hjertstedt, born in Sweden and raised in Australia. "You're up there on the PGA Tour and then you get back on the Nationwide where you haven't played. It certainly humbles you quite a bit."

Starting from the 10th tee, Hjertstedt birdied the par-3 12th by hitting a 7-iron to seven feet. Then he recovered from a bad drive on No. 16 by slicing another 7-iron shot to eight feet to reach 2-under at the turn.

He missed an eagle opportunity with a two-putt on the second from 10 feet. But he placed an 8-iron three inches from the pin on No. 4, drained a 20-foot putt on No. 5 and hit a lob wedge within six feet on No. 8.

"I just played a smart round of golf," he said. "I didn't go for too much. I made a few putts here and there. I'm still struggling a little bit with my swing, but I can do it on the range and today I felt pretty solid on the course."

Barron's 31 was the low score on the back nine. ... Scott Gutschewski eagled Nos. 2 and 8 and was among 11 players tied at 5-under. ... Willie Wood waded into the pond along No. 18 after an errant tee shot. He bogeyed the hole and was 1-under after birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15. ... The par-4 ninth was statistically the toughest hole, yielding 16 birdies, 26 bogeys and three double-bogeys.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press