Wilson birdies three of last four holes, leads Zurich Classic by one

Updated: March 28, 2008, 1:34 AM ET
Associated Press

AVONDALE, La. -- Refreshed after a couple of weeks off, Dean Wilson birdied three of the last four holes in windy conditions Thursday for a 6-under 66 and a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Zurich Classic
Leaderboard

1. Wilson (-6)
T-2. Baird (-5)
T-2. Lonard (-5)
T-2. Reavie (-5)

• Complete scores

Wilson played eight straight tournaments before taking the break.

"I've struggled a little bit," Wilson said. "I took a couple weeks off and just went home and tried to clear my brain and just play golf rather than maybe sit on the range and fiddle with my swing. I think that helped."

Briny Baird, Peter Lonard and Chez Reavie opened with 67s.

Baird got to 6 under with an eagle on the par-4 sixth and a birdie on the par-5 seventh, but finished with a bogey on No. 9 to drop back to 5 under.

On the sixth, he holed out from 208 yards with a 5-wood.

"To be honest with you, I hit it just a touch thin, but it was exactly what the shot called for," Baird said. "Being a little thin it stays under the wind a little bit better."

Steve Elkington, Vaughn Taylor, Jay Williamson, Cameron Beckman and John Mallinger opened with 68s, Woody Austin topped a group at 69 and defending champion Nick Watney had a 71 on the TPC Louisiana.

For a lot of players there is a lot more on the line than the $1.116 million winner's check. For 116 of the players teeing it up, this is a chance -- for some the final, for some the best -- to make it into the Masters in two weeks.

"I think most of the players out here look forward to playing in the Masters and think they can actually win this week," Williamson said. "That's one of the reasons that I'm here. I've never played there, and I'm not getting any younger, unfortunately."

He's come close. Last year, Williamson finished second at the Travelers Championship.

"I was about 11 feet last year, at the Travelers from getting in, and I couldn't make the putt," Williamson said. "That's definitely in the back of my mind and I think -- I would say the majority of the guys teeing it up here feel like they have a chance."

Twenty-five players in the field this week have qualified for the Masters, including defending Masters champion Zach Johnson (72) and defending British Open champion Padraig Harrington (71).

This is the third time the Zurich Classic has been played on the 7,341-yard TPC Louisiana course. Completed in time for the 2005 tournament, Hurricane Katrina hit the Pete Dye-designed course hard, flooding several holes and knocking down nearly 2,000 trees. It was closed for 10 months.

"I think this is the best conditioned course we've played on tour this year and the best set of greens I've seen in maybe four or five years on Tour," said Elkington, a consultant on the design, who describes it as a thinking-man's course.

Elkington said Katrina actually helped the course.

"We had to keep about 80 acres of trees just by law, but 50 [acres] got knocked down, so there's much more air," he said. "I think that's why the course is flourishing."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press