LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) It didn’t take Troy Matteson long to realize it was going to be a special round of golf Thursday in the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney.
Matteson opened with an eagle on the Palm Course, ran off three straight birdies at the turn and wound up with a career-low round of 9-under 63 to take a one-shot lead.
“When you start like that, it kind of puts you at ease,” Matteson said. “It was perfect out there today. I’ve been looking for the right feel, the right grip. And I just started making some putts.”
Jimmy Walker, who needs a victory in the PGA Tour’s final tournament to avoid going back to Q-school, opened with a 64 and was one shot behind with Scott Verplank and Kevin Streelman, who are both well inside the top 125 on the money list, the cutoff for keeping a card.
Former PGA champion Rich Beem, who needs to finish at least in the top five to avoid losing his card for the first time in 10 years, was among those at 65. Jeff Overton, holding down the 125th spot, opened with a 67.
The most notable round of the day might have been a 70 from Erik Compton, playing on a sponsor’s exemption. The 28-year-old Compton received his second heart transplant just six months ago and recently advanced through the first stage of Q-school.
The PGA Tour granted him permission to use a cart, the first time someone has rode in a tour event since Casey Martin.
“I’m just dumb enough to think I could win this thing,” Compton said. “It’s not like we’re out there boxing. We’re trying to hit a golf ball into a hole. I feel like I have a really good golf swing, and I can putt the ball as well as anyone.”
Matteson added another eagle on the back nine of the Palm Course, the first time he has made two eagles in a round since last year on the Palm Course at Disney.
Verplank, regarded as one of the better putters on tour, is finishing what he calls his worst year with the flat stick. He has failed to win, narrowly missed out as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and is 94th on the money list, his lowest position since 1997.
“I’ve been out here for 22 years, and this has been the worst putting year I’ve ever had,” Verplank said. “But today, I felt like a kid again. I made the ones I should make. So hopefully, it will stick with me.”
The season-ending tournament may lack for star power – most of the big names are in China for the European tour opener or don’t play the Fall Series – but is filled with less obvious drama. It is critical for those on the fringe fighting to earn their exempt status for 2009.
Beem is at No. 139 and was joined in the group at 65 by Robert Garrigus (No. 141) and Robert Gamez (No. 190), who also needs a victory to crack the top 125. Winning, however, comes with a two-year exemption.
Among those who opened with a 66 were Stewart Cink, at No. 9 the highest-ranked player from the money list; and Davis Love III, who sewed up his card two weeks ago after a year spent recovering from ankle surgery.
Love is trying to cap off his year with a victory, and he could also extend his tour-record streak to 14 years earning at least $1 million. He would need to finish inside the top 10 to have a chance at that.