(Reuters) - Surprise package Sebastian Cappelen looked right at home in his first ever PGA Tour event as he charged into a two-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the $4 million Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi.
Playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption, the 24-year-old from Denmark took advantage of ideal scoring conditions with five birdies in his last nine holes to shoot a sizzling seven-under-par 65 at the Country Club of Jackson.
Robert Streb, who clinched his maiden PGA Tour victory 11 days ago in a three-way playoff for the McGladrey Classic, opened with a 67 to finish level with fellow American Scott Pinckney and Canadian Nick Taylor.
Fifteen players were still out on the course when play was suspended for the day due to fading light, the best of those being American Tom Hoge, after 17 holes, and compatriot Garrett Osborn, after 16, who were both at three under.
Cappelen sank a 31-foot birdie putt at the par-three seventh, his 16th hole of the round, to get to seven under, then did well to get up and down from 70 feet off the green at the ninth for a scrambling par to maintain his two-stroke advantage.
“I’m so happy, I couldn’t be happier,” Cappelen, with his voice breaking, told Golf Channel after mixing eight birdies with a bogey, which he recorded on his first hole of the day.
“I came here just trying to get a new experience, trying to get a feel for how it feels to play on the real tour.
“I had a great time out there today and hit a lot of great shots. It was fun. I’ll try to just keep that going, take that with me into tomorrow.”
Asked what his expectations were coming into this week, Cappelen replied: “For me, it’s like, ‘Okay I have the one start, I’d better make it count.’ That’s important to me, proving that I can play with these guys.
“But I just want to have the experience. It’s hard to make this one start count in the right way. So I’m going to take this as experience, hopefully for the future, because I would like to join (the PGA Tour) next year.”
Former world number one David Duval opened with a 68 while fellow American Woody Austin, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship in a playoff when the tournament was last held in July 2013, launched his title defense with a 70.
Most of the heavyweights on the PGA Tour are competing this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the first of the four World Golf Championships (WGC) events held each season that bring together the game’s leading players.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue