RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - American Will MacKenzie, boosted by a run of five birdies in seven holes, charged into an early one-shot lead at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina on Thursday.
The 32-year-old North Carolina native fired an eight-under-par 64 to set the first-round pace under clear skies at Forest Oak Country Club in Greensboro.
Steve Marino eagled the par-five second on his way to a 65, finishing one ahead of fellow Americans John Huston, John Merrick and 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton, plus Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama.
U.S. Ryder Cup player Vaughn Taylor was among a group of six players bunched on 67.
MacKenzie, a professional kayaker who enjoys snowboarding, surfing and rock climbing, made the most of ideal scoring conditions after bogeying the par-four first.
He birdied the par-five second after almost holing out with a wedge approach and picked up further shots at the fifth, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in three-under 33.
MacKenzie then reeled off birdies at the 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th in the final event of the PGA Tour’s regular season.
“I hit that wedge in there (on two) really close and that just turned my day around,” he told reporters.
“I finished with solid birdies at the end of the front nine and played great on the back nine. I’m just playing solid golf and I made some putts, a couple of 25-footers and all my short ones.”
MacKenzie lies 82nd in the FedEx Cup points standings and knows he needs to climb higher if he is to feature in the big-money playoff events starting next week.
“I’m a little bit on the outside looking in right now so I need to play well these next couple of weeks to keep playing as long as possible in the playoffs,” he said.
The Wyndham Championship will determine the top 144 players in the standings to qualify for next week’s Barclays Championship outside New York.
The field will then be cut to 120 for the following week at the Deutsche Bank Championship before 70 players qualify for the September 6-9 BMW Championship.
The playoffs end with the top 30 competing at the September 13-16 Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia where a $10 million bonus in deferred compensation will be earned by the overall champion.
Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles