Mike Weir within stroke of Nelson lead after whitewater trip

Mike Weir within stroke of Nelson lead after whitewater trip

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Mike Weir won playing golf on the river against his buddies during a break from the PGA Tour. He is also still pretty good at the more traditional version of the game against other pros.

After a short vacation for a whitewater rafting trip, Weir shot an opening 4-under 66 Thursday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship to join a quartet of players within a stroke of co-leaders Ken Duke and James Nitties.

“I was pleasantly surprised. It was a real steady, solid round,” Weir said. “I guess maybe in that mindset I didn’t quite know what to expect.”

Especially since the only golf the former Masters champion played during his trip to Cataract Canyon in Southern Utah was “river golf” using plastic balls and the only two left-handed clubs in the set shared by the group.

“Every time we’d see a little nice camp of a beach, we’d pull our rafts over and set up a bucket somewhere,” Weir said. “We’d play over these rocks and hit these little plastic balls trying to get it into the bucket. I told the guys, I got my ninth victory last week.”

The PGA Tour won’t recognize that victory, but the relaxed Weir got off to the right start to put himself in contention for an official one.

“It’s significant to me that I was hitting the shots I wanted,” said Weir, who has gone two years since the last of his eight Tour victories.

Fun-loving PGA Tour rookie Nitties and Duke both shared a first-round lead for the second time in their careers. Neither has won.

Scott McCarron, Charles Howell III and Brad Adamonis joined Weir with 66s, and Jesper Parnevik and Tommy Armour III were among a dozen players with 67s. Defending champion Adam Scott started with consecutive bogeys and went on to a 71.

Duke, who snapped a streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 70s, was even through eight holes before five birdies in an eight-hole stretch. He had another birdie chance on No. 18 that stopped 3 inches from the hole.

A week home in Arkansas apparently benefited Duke, even if it had him feeling a bit under the weather for his 118th tournament.

“Having two kids and catching a little cold here and there, sometimes that slows you down,” said the 40-year-old. “And that helps sometimes.”

Nitties finished with four consecutive birdies. The 26-year-old Australian, who appeared on the Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series and finished second at the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last fall, figured he’d be happy if he got one birdie his final four holes.

Instead, he birdied all four.

After knocking his approach within 5 feet at the 504-yard 15th, Nitties needed only a 6-foot putt for birdie at the par-5 16th. The 13-footer at the 198-yard 17th was his longest made putt of the day, and he closed with another 5-footer.

Nitties, who on his tour bio lists his special interests as clubbing, girls and movies, made the cut in seven of his first 14 tournaments.

His best finish was a tie for fourth in the FBR Open after he shared the first-round lead at TPC Scottsdale, renowned as the biggest party stop on the PGA Tour. The Nelson also is known for its lively atmosphere.

“There are a lot of good sights out here, but my best result was at one of the biggest party events of the PGA Tour and no one thought I would do half decent in that,” Nitties said. “I know when to put distractions and golf into two parts.”

Nitties knew what his biggest challenge might be for the second round Friday.

“I’m off at 7:25, which is so early. … I’m a 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock get-up type of guy,” he said. “Just preparation, getting myself fully awake before I tee it off.”

Divots: Rich Beem is donating $100 for every birdie he makes this week and at the Colonial next week to Rich Behm, the Dallas Cowboys scouting assistant paralyzed when the NFL team’s tent-like practice facility collapsed in a storm. Beem had only one first-round birdie. … … Vijay Singh, the world’s No. 9 player and highest-ranked in the tournament after Phil Mickelson’s withdrawal, shot 70. … Kevin Streelman, part of the group at 67, was already 4 under through eight holes despite a bogey. But he had three more bogeys after that.

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