Munoz picks up where he left off, shares lead in Mississippi

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Defending champion Sebastian Munoz, of Colombia, reacts to his second shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Sanderson Farms Championship golf tournament in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – Defending champion Sebastian Munoz found happy memories Thursday at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Munoz nearly holed a wedge on his opening hole as part of his fast start, ran in four straight birdies on the back nine and wound up with an 8-under 64 to share of the lead with Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman.

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The Country Club of Jackson was soft from recent downpours, though the greens were running fast and true, contributing to the good scoring.

Sixteen players were at 67 or better.

“I don't know, the energy of this place, I really like it,” Munoz said. “I just kind of thrive on it.”

The Colombian figured there were good scores to be had when he saw Walker and Hoffman at 64 before he teed off, with plenty of other low scores right behind them. His only bogey came on the ninth hole when his drive landed in a divot and he missed the green to the left.

All that did was slow his momentum briefly, and he picked that right back up starting on the 13th with four straight birdies, all of them within 6 feet.

Walker wasn't feeling his best and wasn't sure what to expect, especially after missing two short birdie putts to start his round. Instead, it was his best start in more than two years. His eighth and final birdie of a bogey-free round was on No. 8, where he had a speck of mud o the right of the ball, the wind out of the right and the pin tucked to the right.

“I was like, ‘We’ll see if I can judge it just right,' and I ended up hitting it like this,” he said, holding his hands a little more than a foot apart. “Finishing that off was pretty nice.”

Hoffman made nine birdies in his round of 64.

Chappell feels he's starting the year over with his major medical extension from microdiscetomy surgery continuing this year because of a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also added to his family when his wife gave birth to a daughter, which limited his play even more.

“I hadn't done myself any favors coming back — poor scheduling, poor play, maybe came back a little early,” Chappell said. “But I kind of feel like I got my feet under me, getting more comfortable being on the road, being away from my family, and so the focus is just enjoying it and playing good golf, and the results will come.”

Walker hasn't had much go his way since he won the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. He had Lyme disease the following year that took its toll for more than that season, and he now has gone 88 starts on the PGA Tour without winning since his major title.

More recently, he had tendonitis in his right elbow so bad that it hurt even to remove a club from the bag. Walker got some good work in at home in Texas last week, his physical therapist working with him, and he took it easy during practice leading up to the opening round.

“I’ve always had stuff with my left shoulder, but I just picked up some tendonitis at the U.S. Open,” Walker said. “I just had no strength. But I rested a lot last week, played a few nine-hole rounds with some buddies and came in this week and my physio, we've been banging away on it. And it's feeling better.”

The putter felt better, too. After two short misses, Walker realized he needed to move the ball up slightly in his stance. Then, he started pouring in a collection of 15-footers, one from 25-feet and a par save from 10 feet.

The last time he started a PGA Tour event with a round this low was a 64 in May 2018 at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Sergio Garcia, out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 2011, made his tournament debut with a 68. Henrik Stenson, playing in Mississippi for the first time in 10 years had a 70.

Stewart Cink opened with a 69 in his first tournament since winning the Safeway Open three weeks ago with his son on the bag, Cink's first victory since he won the British Open at Turnberry in 2009.

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