Sept 29 (Reuters) - Venezuelan rookie Jhonattan Vegas lived up to his glitzy surname by charging into a tie for the lead in Thursday’s opening round of the Las Vegas Open.
Ever-smiling and pumping his right fist whenever he sank a birdie putt, the powerful 27-year-old from Maturin fired a sparkling eight-under-par 63 on a sweltering day at the TPC Summerlin.
Vegas, who won his first PGA Tour title at the Bob Hope Classic in January, racked up 10 birdies and two bogeys to end the round level with American journeyman William McGirt, a fellow rookie.
Australian Nathan Green and South Korean Charlie Wi opened with 64s while Germany’s Alex Cejka, American Nick Watney and Australian Rod Pampling were among a group of 11 knotted on 65.
“It was a great round,” a beaming Vegas told reporters after surging to the top of the leaderboard in the first of four Fall Series events on the PGA Tour.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball absolutely great, which is something fun to do, but the main thing was I made a lot of putts today.
“There are lots of birdie holes out here that you can take advantage of ... and that’s kind of what I did today. I put myself in great position pretty much all day long.”
Vegas, who signalled his rich potential when he cruised to a six-shot victory over Andres Romero at last year’s Argentine Open, was amused by the prospect of winning in ‘Sin City’.
“Winning in Vegas, last name Vegas, it could be really fun,” he said with a smile. “It could be really, really fun.
“I have put myself in a great position starting. Three more rounds, we have a long way to go. I just have to keep playing hard and hopefully it will turn out to be great.”
American world number 11 Watney, the event’s highest-ranked player and a double PGA Tour winner this season, was delighted to make a good start after finishing joint 26th in an elite field of 30 at last week’s Tour Championship.
“I didn’t really expect much,” the Las Vegas resident said after recording seven birdies and one bogey. “I didn’t play so hot last week, so I’m very pleased with six under.
“So, same game plan and see where I end up. It’s always nice to play at home, and definitely a bonus to get to sleep in your own bed and just relax for the week. I’m just going to enjoy it and hopefully I’ll have a chance on Sunday.”
American Jonathan Byrd, who spectacularly clinched his fourth PGA Tour victory here last year with an ace at the fourth extra hole of a sudden-death playoff, launched his title defence with a 71.
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)
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