Palmer's grandson Saunders sets Barbasol pace

Thu Jul 16, 2015 7:41pm EDT
 
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(Reuters) - Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, made a timely return to form with his putter as he charged into a one-shot lead in the opening round of the inaugural Barbasol Championship on Thursday in Auburn, Alabama.

On a hot and steamy day, the 27-year-old American piled up seven birdies in a flawless seven-under-par 64 to set the pace in the first PGA Tour event to be staged in the state since the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham.

While the game's leading players are competing this week in the third major of the year at the British Open in Scotland, Saunders led the way on home soil as he vied for title honors with the lesser lights on the U.S. circuit.

Saunders signed off with a 14-foot birdie putt on his final hole, the par-four ninth on the Grand National layout at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, to end a sweltering day a stroke in front of fellow American Jason Gore.

"I just putted a lot better," Saunders, who is bidding for a maiden victory in his first full-time season on the PGA Tour, told reporters.

"I've been playing really well lately, been hitting the ball as well as I've ever hit it in my career in the past few weeks ... I just had been putting terribly.

"I finally just had a few putts go in today and that always turns over into a little bit of confidence."

Saunders, whose best PGA Tour finish was a five-man playoff loss at the Puerto Rico Open in March, was delighted to conclude his round with a birdie after finding a fairway bunker off the ninth tee.

"The second shot ... was a little bit difficult out of that bunker, but I just made a nice swing and got fortunate to hit it into good spot and made another putt," he smiled.   Continued...

 
Jun 21, 2015; University Place, WA, USA; Sam Saunders chips onto the 17th green in the final round of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports