RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tom Carter, Kyle Thompson and Michael Letzig grabbed the first-round lead at the Rex Hospital Open Thursday with matching 7-under-par 64s, one stroke in front of Rick Price, Tee McCabe and Ron Whittaker.
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|TRI-LEADERS THRU 18 HOLES|
Carter stood at 2-under through 12 holes but had a torrid finishing stretch with birdies on five out of the last six holes. He displayed a deft touch with his short irons during that stretch, as none of the five birdies was longer than six feet.
"It was a great ball-striking round ... especially on the last six holes," said Carter. "Today was one of those days where everything clicked for me."
After winning three times in 2003 -- one of just seven players to perform the feat in a single season -- Carter has somewhat struggled since. He finished No. 158 on the PGA TOUR money list in 2004 and has failed to crack the top 100 on the Nationwide Tour the last two seasons.
"It has been two years since I've played good," said Carter, currently No. 92 on the money list. "I've definitely been in a slump. So even when you feel like you're hitting it good, you still have to get your confidence back. A round like this helps. This type of round is definitely a confidence builder."
Carter's best round of the season comes on the heels of his best showing of the year -- a tie for 18th place at last week's LaSalle Bank Open.
"The last month my confidence has been slowly coming back," said Carter. "Last week in Chicago I played solid all four days ... so I was hoping to come here and build on that and hopefully get back to the level I've played at before."
The putter was the key on Thursday for the 39-year-old native of Abington, Pa. He ended the day with just 24 putts, tied with Scott Parel for best in the field.
"I made everything today," said Carter. "The putter is starting to come around. I worked on my game really hard in the off-season. I got my swing back as a result but I neglected my putter. The putter was holding me back early in the year ... but I've worked hard on it the last few weeks and it is finally starting to kick in."
Putting was also high on Thompson's agenda as he ticked off the keys to his round at the par-71 Tournament Players Club Wakefield Plantation.
"I switched to a belly putter in Greenville (BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs) and I'm rolling it good right now," said Thompson, who made his longest putt of the day at the par-4 second hole when a 40-footer fell in the cup. "I made a lot of putts today from 10 to 15 feet."
Thompson, like Carter, is hoping a good week in Raleigh will turn around a season without a defining moment thus far. He sits No. 79 on the money list, with a tie for fifth-place two weeks ago at the Melwood Prince George's County Open his only top-25 finish.
"I've scored poorly but played good this year," said Thompson, who just missed gaining his PGA TOUR card in 2003 and 2004 with T25 and T22 finishes, respectively. "I finished well two weeks ago that helped me get to a respectable place, but there is still a lot of golf left."
First-Round News & Notes: 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize opened with a 3-under 68, while 1996 U.S. Open winner Steve Jones struggled to a 2-over 73. ... Ryan Howison, a third baseman for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels at the 1989 College World Series, opened with a 3-under 68. The two-time Nationwide Tour winner took up golf the day after the World Series that year. He will be an interested spectator Friday night as the Tar Heels host the University of South Carolina in the Super Regionals for the right to make it to this year's CWS. ... Rick Price had a hole-in-one on the par-3 11th hole with a 5-iron from 216 yards. It represented the 14th ace in tournament history and just the second at the 11th hole (John Elliott, 1995). There have now been 11 aces on Tour in 2007. ... Tom Carter and Kyle Thompson hope to reverse the trend of first round-leaders failing to win. In 12 events, Martin Laird is the only 18-hole leader to prevail, doing so at the Athens Regional Foundation Classic. The Rex Hospital Open has seen the 18-hole leader go on to win twice in 13 prior events (Skip Kendall in 1994, Mark Hensby in 2000). ... There were 12 bogey-free rounds on Thursday -- Letzig (64), McCabe (65), Whittaker (65), Jon Turcott (66), Elliot Gealy (66), Mario Tiziani (67), Mark Turnesa (67), Tony Parrish (67), Ricky Barnes (68), Ron Philo Jr. (68), Deane Pappas (70) and Tyrone van Aswegen (70). ... John Huston, Mike Heinen and Edward Loar withdrew following the first round, while Troy Kelly was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
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