Sergio Garcia got a jump start on his PGA Championship prep on Thursday.
With birdies at Nos. 12, 14 and 18, Garcia (who started on the back nine) made the turn at the AT&T Byron Nelson at 3 under. He then added birdies on Nos. 1 and 5 before coming upon the 348-yard par-4 sixth hole. A 293-yard drive left him 52 yards from the hole. From there, he wedged up past the hole, put a little backspin on the ball and seemingly even surprised himself when the ball rolled in for an eagle 2.
“As soon as hit it I knew it was going to be close,” Garcia said. “Didn’t know if it was going to go in or not, but knew it was going to be close.
“It was nice to hear the crowd go a little bit crazy there, because we couldn’t see it go in.”
Garcia, who lives in the Austin, Texas, area, made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the north side of Dallas for the event, where he is a two-time winner. His eagle hole-out tied him for the lead at 7 under. J.J. Spaun would later birdie his final hole to get to 9 under and take the clubhouse lead with a 63 but Garcia is right there after the first round.
Garcia closed with three straight pars and walked off the course in a seven-way tie for second at 7 under.
“It was obviously a great round,” he said. “I would’ve loved to birdie the last hole, I’m not going to lie. But, you know, I think overall it was a solid day. A lot of good things.
“Couple of things that could have been better, but overall it was nice and putted nicely. So very happy with the way it went.”
After his round, Bello talked about how this year has been tough for him but “today felt really nice.”
He went on to say that he hoped his opening-hole birdie wasn’t actually a bad sign.
“To be fair, the last two events I missed the cut and I started with birdie first hole that I played, so I told my brother, I hope this doesn’t mean that we’re going to play bad the rest of the day,” he said. “So that was the first thing that went through my mind.”
J.J. Spaun later took the lead at 9 under after shooting a 63.
“I haven’t been in this position in a while,” Spaun said. “I’m just going to keep trying to do what I been doing last week and this week. … just stay in the present. You know, don’t be scared. Fire away. Make as many birdies as I can. If I do it, great. If I don’t, well as least I tried. That’s the mindset I’m going into for the rest of this week.”
Koepka, Spieth, Matsuyama make returns
Brooks Koepka, who suffered a right knee-cap dislocation and ligament damage that forced him to withdraw from the Players Championship on March 7, is playing for the first time since he missed the cut at the Masters.
Koepka birdied No. 9, his final hole, to shoot an opening-round, 1-under 71. His scorecard had four birdies and three bogeys.
Jordan Spieth, who last played at Augusta National, contracted COVID-19 during his time off. About 10 days after the conclusion of the Masters, Spieth tested positive. He says he didn’t know how he got it, nor did he lose his appetite or sense of smell but he did have to quarantine in his Dallas home away from his wife, Annie, as he successfully defeated the virus.
The Byron Nelson is also the first tournament back for Hideki Matsuyama since he won the Masters. During his time off, he returned to his native Japan, where he received the Prime Minister’s award from Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.
“I realize now the responsibility that goes with a major championship, especially the Masters,” Matsuyama said, “I’m honored. I’m flattered by the added attention, but at the same time, sometimes it’s difficult to say no. But it goes with the territory and, again, grateful that I have this opportunity and I’ll try my best to prepare well for what’s to come.”
Matsuyama said he planned to use this week at TPC Craig Ranch “to try to find my game again and prepare for the PGA Championship next week.”
Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio and Adam Schupak contributed to this article.