New putting stroke gives Sheehan the Melwood lead

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Sheehan's 63 was one shot away from his career low, a 62 in 2005 on the PGA TOUR.
June 03, 2010
Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR staff

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Patrick Sheehan isn't Jack Nicklaus, but he's doing his best to putt like him. Sheehan has altered his putting stance and stroke and now stands over the ball in nearly the same fashion the Golden Bear did when he was chalking up championships on the PGA TOUR.

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Sheehan's new stance, though a little more upright than Nicklaus in his heyday, resulted in seven birdies and an eagle in the rain-delayed opening round of the Melwood Prince George's County Open. The Rhode Island native grabbed the clubhouse lead with an 8-under 63 at the University of Maryland Golf Course, one shot better than Argentina's Fabian Gomez, who hit only 9 of 18 greens en route to his 7-under 64.

Thursday's opening round was halted by lightning and a late afternoon storm, forcing officials to stop play at 4:56 p.m. with 66 players still on the course. Play resumed at 7 p.m.

A total of five did not complete the first round today and will return to the course and resume play at 8:15 a.m. The second round will begin as scheduled, with the first groups teeing off at 7 a.m.

Australian Nick Flanagan heads a list of four players in the house at 6-under 65. He is joined by rookie Justin Peters, second-year man Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela and veteran Frank Lickliter II.

Six others -- Kyle Thompson, Hunter Haas, Darron Stiles, Jess Daley, Adam Bland and Ron Whittaker -- are tied for seventh place, three back of Sheehan, whose 63 was one shot of his career low and his best since a 62 at the 2005 Bank of America Colonial on the PGA TOUR.

"I played very well today, which was nice to see," he said after hitting 16 greens in regulation. "I've been struggling with the putter. It's all I've been doing. I haven't been going to the range at all lately, I've just been putting."

Sheehan worked with a friend back home who worked on his set up and alignment.

"It's just little stuff, the things you take for granted, like pointing the putter where your eyes are looking," he said. "It's simple stuff. It's basic stuff but if you're not careful, it gets away."

Sheehan's stance isn't conventional and now resembles Nicklaus' open stance with his feet together.

"I feel better with my alignment," he said. "The key for me is to be behind the ball a little bit. I see the line better that way. I don't set up square. It's really weird but it's good, it's pretty good and today was good."

And there was an element of luck.

Sheehan chipped in for eagle from 15 yards off the green at the par-5, 18th hole, his ninth of the day.

"I was just trying to hack it out. The lie was thick and heavy," he said. "I'm thinking just don't leave it short, just get it up there somehow and get a putt at it. It came out really good and it was just... lucky. There was no skill involved, it was just luck."

Gomez backed off using driver a lot Thursday, hoping to keep the ball in play and avoiding the thick rough.

"The rough is unplayable," Gomez said through a translator. "I hit a lot of 3-irons and 5-woods off the tees because I wanted to keep the ball in the middle, in the fairway in order to be able to hit the second shot with some spin. I hit the ball very well today, especially putting."

Gomez' putting stats look almost incomplete. He had only 20 official putts in shooting his 64, and that number included one 3-putt green that resulted in his lone bogey. Gomez drained a handful of birdie putts from the 15-20 foot range and had four others that might have been considered tap-ins.

"The greens are very firm but I like that," he said. "I like the tougher conditions. I feel comfortable with those conditions. It's just tough to get close to the hole when they are firm like this."

First-Round Notes

Kirk Triplett, 48, is making his second career start on the Nationwide Tour. The three-time PGA TOUR winner finished T55 at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open back in March. Triplett, whose last win was the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson, shot a 1-under 70.

• Bobby Gates and Martin Piller, former roommates at Texas A&M University, were paired together today. Gates, is No. 2 on the money list and won the Michael Hill New Zealand Open. Piller is No. 4 on the money list and won the Stadion Athens Classic. Gates turned the front nine in 4-under but had five bogeys on the back and finished with a 1-over 72. Piller finished up his round eagle/birdie/bogey/birdie for a 2-under 69.

• Another top pairing today had No. 1 money winner Kevin Chappell playing with No. 8 Jamie Lovemark. Chappell won the 2008 Individual NCAA Championship during his senior season as a member of the winning UCLA Bruin team. Lovemark won the 2007 Individual NCAA Championship as a freshman at Southern California. Chappell carded an even-par 71 while Lovemark shot a 1-under 70.

• Much of the talk Thursday centered on the baseball world and the near-perfect game Wednesday night by Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga. Down to their last out, Cleveland Indians shortstop Jason Donald was credited with an infield hit to spoil Galarraga's perfect game. Donald attended the same high school (Buchanan HS) in Clovis, Calif. as leading money winner Kevin Chappell.

Fabian Gomez needed only 20 putts to complete his round today, and that included one three-putt for bogey. Two of Gomez' putts came from the fringe, so they went into the books as zero putts on the green.

• Frank Lickliter had 13 one-putts today and finished with 21 total putts.

Kelly Grunewald, Hunter Haas, Jim Herman, Patrick Sheehan and Brian Smock each hit 16 greens in regulation.

Darron Stiles, who celebrated his 37th birthday on Tuesday, shot a 5-under 66 and is T7.

Kyle Thompson, who posted a 5-under 66, got into the field as a Monday qualifier. Thompson shot a 67 to lead a group of seven qualifiers at the Little Bennett Golf Course.

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