American Arnold Palmer smiles during the Champion's Challenge ahead of the start of the144th Open Championship, St.Andrews on July 15, 2015. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI. | License Photo
While most of the world's top golfers were playing across the Atlantic at the British Open, the grandson of a former Open champion grabbed the first-round lead at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship on Thursday in Opelika, Ala.
Sam Saunders, whose grandfather is two-time British Open winner Arnold Palmer, posted a 7-under-par 64 on the Grand National's Lake Course and was one shot ahead of Jason Gore in the inaugural tournament.
The 27-year-old Saunders has yet to win on the PGA Tour in 45 career starts. His best finish is a second-place tie this year in the Puerto Rico Open.
Saunders made it through the first day without a bogey, closing his round by sinking a birdie putt on the par-4 ninth hole.
"It is just the first round, yes, but it's always nice to get off to a good start," Saunders said. "You have to hit the ball well here and I did that today. I drove it well and I hit a lot of good iron shots.
"You don't have to putt great here, I think, to shoot a good, solid score, but to shoot 7 under, I had a lot of putts go in for me today, which is nice. I haven't seen that happen in a long time, so it was great."
Gore, whose lone victory on the PGA Tour came in 2005 at the 84 Lumber Classic, birdied four of his last five holes.
"The golf course is just there for the taking," Gore said. "It's a great golf course. If these are the scoring conditions, not a breath of wind, greens were holding, you just kind of had to go out and take advantage of it."
A stroke behind Gore in a group at 66 was Maverick McNealy, a Stanford junior who was the NCAA Division I player of the year. He played with Saunders and posted an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys.
"I love to play and I love to compete," McNealy said. "To compete against the best in the world and on a golf course like this that's in perfect condition and do all that, that's what every kid dreams of, playing on the PGA Tour."
Also at 66 were Martin Flores, Carlos Sainz Jr., Carlos Ortiz of Mexico and Will Wilcox, a Birmingham, Ala., native.
Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, the highest-ranked player in the tournament at No. 93, opened with a 68. He was part of a playoff earlier this year along with Saunders and others in the Puerto Rico Open that was won by Alex Cejka.