JACKSON, Miss. – Davis Riley got off to a hot start and kept bogeys off his card to the end for a 6-under 66 and a share of the lead Thursday with Will Gordon in the Sanderson Farms Championship, the PGA Tour event he considers his fifth major.
Riley grew up about 90 miles away in Hattiesburg and can remember playing the Country Club of Jackson when he was so young he was hitting fairway metals into the par 4s.
He is coming off a strong rookie season, narrowly missing out on the Tour Championship, and would appear to be off to a solid start. Riley wonders if being so open about his affection for the PGA Tour's lone Mississippi stop has created too big of a burden.
It wasn't an issue Thursday. He saved par with an 8-foot putt on his first hole, handled the par 5s on the front nine and threw in a pair of 12-foot birdie putts.
“I have so many friends and family here. I want to perform. It just would be a really, really special tournament to win,” Riley said. "I just have to take it day-by-day and treat it like every other tournament. It’s easy to put that added pressure on yourself, but I just think that hinders you from playing your best golf.
“I’m going to take it day-by-day and continue the stress-free golf that I played today.”
On the closing hole, Riley hit a cut from the rough to navigate a tree and came up just short of the green. He pitched to 6 feet and finished off a bogey-free round.
Defending champion Sam Burns opened with a 70 one week after he was part of the U.S. team that won the Presidents Cup.
Gordon did most of his work late in the round. He two-putted for birdie from 20 feet on the par-5 14th, drove to the edge of the reachable par-4 15th for an easy up-and-down and made birdie on the 17th from about 12 feet.
Riley and Gordon were a shot ahead of eight players, a group that included Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa, who went 1-0-1 in his Presidents Cup debut last week.
Fatigue wasn't too big of an issue from having only played two matches. It was the party Sunday night that about did him in, so Bezuidenhout took off on Monday and trying to carry some momentum into Mississippi.
“You learn a lot playing against the best players in the world, and last week was most of the best players,” he said. “We faced a strong U.S. team last week. Every week that you play against the best players in the world, you can play your game, and that’s the only way you’re going to get better.”
Also at 67 was big-hitting rookie Brandon Matthews, who got married Saturday, and two other rookies in Trevor Cone and Kevin Yu.
Mark Hubbard narrowly missed a 12-footer on his final hole at No. 9 that would have given him a share of the lead.
Burns also played bogey-free, minus a bunch of birdies, none on the par 5s. He missed the fairway on three of the par 5s, and the one fairway he hit, he pulled his approach into a small bush-filled ravine. Burns hacked his way over the green, but at least saved par.
The Sanderson Farms was a good start to his season a year ago. He went on to win twice more, in playoffs at the Valspar Championship over Riley and at Colonial over Scottie Scheffler, and he made his first cup appearance.
“Just couldn’t really get much going out there,” Burns said. “Golf course was playing pretty difficult, but overall not a bad round.”
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