Ryan Palmer takes lead at Phoenix Open before play is suspended

Ryan Palmer shot an opening-round 64 to take the lead at the Phoenix Open.
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Webb Simpson is getting used to his lofty position in the world ranking. He's comfortable on the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale, too.

Simpson had five birdies in a six-hole stretch, capped by a 9-iron bunker shot to inches on the second hole, and shot a 6-under 65 on Thursday to finish a stroke behind leader Ryan Palmer in the suspended first round of the Phoenix Open.

“It's one of those courses that just fits your eye well,'' said Simpson, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 6.

He's ranked second among U.S. players, one spot behind Steve Stricker.

“I'm getting used to it,'' Simpson said. “I don't think about that stuff that much. I'm just a believer in you can climb up as quick as you can go down, so I don't pay attention to it that much. If I'm low on confidence, I'll look at the world ranking, `Hey, we're still there at the top.'''

Palmer parred his final hole at dusk for a 64.

The start of the round was delayed an hour because of frost, and play was suspended because of darkness at 6:05 p.m. with 42 players unable to finish. Last year, frost and frozen greens delayed play nine hours during the week, forcing a Monday finish.

“I knew I was going to be here in the morning for the second round, so I wasn't worried about it if we had to come back and restart,'' Palmer said. “So, I didn't think about it and I just kept hitting shots and sticking to my game plan.''

He was back in his comfort zone with a trusted old putter model.

“I pulled it out of the garage and was putting in my living room, then went outside in the backyard on my putting green, and I knew it was time to bring it back out,'' the three-time tour winner said after holing seven birdie putts from 10-15 feet.

Palmer switched back to the Odyssey putter after missing the cuts in his previous starts this year in the Sony Open and Humana Challenge.

“I wasn't comfortable when I'd get over the short putts,'' he said.

Palmer had 27 putts and hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He birdied the par-5 15th after his drive landed in the middle of the fairway and rolled left into the water, and saved par on the short par-4 17th after also driving into the water.

“To make birdie there (15) after hitting it in the water, and then I get up on 17 and do the same thing, hit it in the water,'' Palmer said. “I guess you could say I left a couple out there.''

He was 8 under after a birdie on No. 6, but had his lone bogey on No. 7, then finished the round with pars on Nos. 8 and 9.

Jarrod Lyle, Harrison Frazar, Derek Lamely, Kevin Na and Chez Reavie were two strokes behind at 66, and Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Spencer Levin also were 5 under. Watson and Levin had three holes left. Dufner, a playoff loser last year, had five holes remaining.

Kyle Stanley opened with a 69, four days after a devastating loss in the Farmers Insurance Open. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, he made a triple-bogey 8 on the final hole of regulation and lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.

“It was just good to be out there,'' Stanley said. “It was almost therapeutic.''

He received warm cheers and words of encouragement from the fans.

“I'm kind of overwhelmed by it,'' Stanley said.

Phil Mickelson had 24 putts in a 68, and defending champion Mark Wilson, coming off a victory two weeks ago in the Humana Challenge, was 1 under with two holes left.

“I feel so good with the putter,'' said Mickelson, the former Arizona State star who won the tournament in 1996 and 2005. “It's been a little while. It's been a few years since the guys out here have seen me putt like this.''

Mickleson played alongside Dustin Johnson and the green-clad Rickie Fowler in a morning group that attracted the largest gallery in the estimated crowd of 77,053.

Fowler holed out from 68 yards for birdie on the par-5 15th after hitting his second shot into the water in front of the green.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was how I wanted to hit it,'' Fowler said. “It skipped behind the hole, and I could see it spinning right down the stick.''

Fowler shot a 69, and Johnson had a 68.

Simpson birdied No. 14 and 15, made par on the amphitheater par-3 16th, then birdied the next four holes. On the par-4 second, he hit a shot to remember after his drive drifted right.

“I had a good lie in the bunker and had 145 yards. I was just trying to hit an easy 9,'' Simpson said. “It was one of those that just came out perfect and landed great and ended up being a tap-in. It was my favorite shot, I think, I've hit this year.''

Last year, Simpson closed the regular season with a victory in the Wyndham Championship, then won the Deutsche Bank two weeks later in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He's coming off a two-week break after opening in Hawaii with a tie for third in the Tournament of Champions and a tie for 38th in the Sony Open.

“One of the big things this year was you see so many players go out and have a big year and they come out and they struggle,'' Simpson said. “It's fine if I struggle, but I want to make sure that I'm doing the same things.''

DIVOTS: Arron Oberholser, returning from hand and hip injuries, was 1 over with three holes to play in his first PGA Tour round since October 2009. … Stephen Ames withdrew before the round because of back pain. Vaughn Taylor was in line to take the spot as an alternate, but wasn't on site, so Scott Brown got the position in the field. Brown was even par with three holes left.