FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Ryan Blaum shot an 8-under 64 on Thursday to take the lead in the Hotel Fitness Championship, the first of four events in the Web.com Tour Finals.
Blaum had a bogey-free round at Sycamore Hills, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that was drenched by 11 inches of rain late last week.
“I think it was playing excellent,” said Blaum, the 30-year-old former Duke player finished 31st on the Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list. “Overall, I think the course is in great shape.”
The top 25 players on the Web.com Tour money list earned PGA Tour cards last week. They are competing against each other for PGA Tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals and the final leader getting a spot in The Players Championship.
The rest of the players – Nos. 26-75 on Web.com money list and Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings – are fighting for another 25 cards based on earnings in the series.
PGA Tour player Greg Chalmers of Australia and Tom Hoge were a stroke back. Chalmers was 132nd in the FedEx Cup standings, and Hoge was 65th on the Web.com Tour money list.
“It’s out there if you drive it in play,” Chalmers said. “I’m more excited about the fact that this is the lowest round I’ve shot in a little while. It hasn’t been the best year for me.”
Derek Fathauer, Bud Cauley, Sam Saunders, Tony Finau and Dicky Pride shot 66.
Carlos Ortiz, the Mexican player who topped the Web.com Tour money list, opened with a 76. He won the Portland Open last week for his third Web.com Tour victory of the season, making him fully exempt for the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. He entered the finals with a $194,965 lead over second-place Andrew Putnam. Putnam had a 70.
Defending champion Trevor Immelman shot 71.
“The course is definitely playing harder than last year. There’s a lot more rough,” Immelman said. “The ball is not running as far in the fairways, so the course is playing a lot longer. I’m not sure the scores will be as low as last year, but four rounds in the 60s and you’re going to be pretty close. So, I’ll need to make up some ground.”
Blaum is playing on the tour for the 10th week in a row. He missed the cut last week.
“It’s hard to practice when you’re trying to rest,” he said. “I missed the cut last week, which I think was kind of a good thing for me.”