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    • Ortiz, Knost share first-round lead at Rex Hospital Open

    • Colt Knost sits at the top with Carlos Ortiz after the first round in Raleigh. (Halleran/Getty Images) Colt Knost sits at the top with Carlos Ortiz after the first round in Raleigh. (Halleran/Getty Images)

    Scores | Tee times | INTERVIEWS: Ortiz | Knost | Homa | H. Haas | Hadwin | Stegmaier

    RALEIGH, N.C. – Two-time 2014 winner Carlos Ortiz fired a 7-under 64 in Thursday’s opener of the Rex Hospital Open and grabbed a share of the first-round lead with former U.S. Amateur Champion Colt Knost.

    The pair of Dallas residents lead by one over Max Homa, winner of last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, S.C. Steve Wheatcroft and Steve Allan are tied for fourth place after posting 5-under 66’s at TPC Wakefield Plantation.

    Eight others are knotted at 4-under 67, including Duke grad Ryan Blaum, East Carolina’s Harold Varner III and Hunter Haas, another Dallas area resident.

    “It was a stress-free round,” said Ortiz, who hit 17 of 18 greens. “I’m really not thinking about if I won. I just try to hit the fairway and hit the green. I know that sounds dumb, but my game plan is not to think about things.”

    The Tour’s leading money winner has been hovering near the top of the leaderboard since the opening week of the season and owned the 54-hole lead at the South Georgia Classic a few weeks back but admitted his thoughts started wandering to the prize that looms should he go on to win for a third time – an instant promotion to the PGA TOUR.

    “I think that was my mistake in Valdosta. I was in the eye of everybody,” said the soft-spoken North Texas grad who finished third, three back of winner Blayne Barber. “I think I’m going to try and just focus on the process and not try to think about the results or what can happen if I win or not.”

    The 23-year-old from Mexico leads the Tour’s All-Around ranking and moved to the top of the first-day standings thanks to seven compact birdies.

    “I just played solid the whole day and close to the hole most of the time,” he said. “The longest birdie I had was 30 feet on 12. Other than that I was pretty close all day and I didn’t have a lot of long par putts.”

    Joining Ortiz at the top was Knost, who bettered his previous best score of the year by three strokes.

    “On this Tour you have to be aggressive and you have to fire at a lot of pins,” he said after missing just two greens in regulation. “I’ve been steady all year with a lot of 1- and 2-under scores. I just haven’t been able to put four rounds together. It’s nice to get the lid off and make some putts today.”

    Homa, the 2013 NCAA Individual Champion from California, was also bogey-free and worry-free after collecting his first professional trophy four days ago.

    “Moving up the money list is the big thing. I’ve been a little stressed out just trying to get into that top 25,” said Homa, who moved from No. 64 to No. 9 with the win. “It almost feels like I’m playing with house money. It’s easy to believe you can play well but it’s hard to believe you can win. I learned a lot and proved a lot. I feel a lot more comfortable than last week.”

    Carlos Ortiz and Colt Knost share lead at Rex Hospital Open after 18 holes
    • Highlights

      Carlos Ortiz and Colt Knost share lead at Rex Hospital Open after 18 holes

    Carlos Ortiz and Colt Knost share lead at Rex Hospital Open after 18 holes
    • Highlights

      Carlos Ortiz and Colt Knost share lead at Rex Hospital Open after 18 holes

    FIRST-ROUND NOTES:

    • Thursday weather: Mostly sunny. Wind W-NW 7-15 mph. Daytime high of 87.

    • Will Wilcox withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced in the field by T.J. Vogel (72).

    • Mark Anderson posted a 2-over 73 in the opening round but withdrew after signing his scorecard. Anderson fell off a ladder last week at home in South Carolina and sprained both of his ankles and bruised some ribs. He will be off next week but plans to resume play in two weeks at the PGA TOUR’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis June 2-8.

    • Ortiz of Dallas has already won twice this year. A third win would give the 23-year-old an instant promotion to the PGA TOUR for the remainder of this season and also grant him full-exempt status for the 2014-15 campaign. Ortiz’ two wins both came from outside the continental US – the Panama Claro Championship and the Mexico Open.

    • Ortiz is one of four current Web.com Tour members who have been given sponsor exemptions into next week’s PGA TOUR stop – the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. Ortiz will be joined in Ohio by Justin Thomas, Michael Kim and Justin Lower. Ortiz is the only one of the four who has yet to play in a PGA TOUR event.

    • Colt Knost has made the cut in 7 of 8 starts this year and has two top-25 finishes – T20 Panama Claro Championship and T13 Mexico Championship. Knost is No. 51 on the current money list.

    • Steve Wheatcroft has made four cuts in eight previous starts this year but his T11 at the Panama Claro Championship is his only top-25 finish. He stands No. 89 on the season money list.

    “I scrapped it around pretty well,” said Wheatcroft after his round of 66. “I’m very happy considering I didn’t hit it anywhere nearly as well as I wanted to. It wasn’t my sharpest day.”

    Wheatcroft was still solid – he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation – but it was his putting that made the difference. Wheatcroft said the improvement came from a slight adjustment in his set-up.

    “I went back and looked a video of a good tournament I had a few years ago to see if I could see anything,” he said. “My set-up probably looks the exact same to everybody who watched me four weeks ago when I couldn’t make a putt. Now I stand over it and feel like I see the line. I’m hitting the line every time and it’s just a matter of getting the speed right.”

    • Australian Steve Allan was 1-over through 12 holes before turning the tables and chalking up four birdies and an eagle on his last six holes for a 5-under 66 that put him into a tie for fourth.

    “I wish I knew what happened because I’d do it more often,” he said with a laugh. “The last few weeks have been frustrating. You just have to calm down and hang in there. As today showed, you just never know when it’s going to turn around.”

    • Utah’s Tony Finau fired a 4-under 67 that put him tied for sixth after the opening round. Finau has been getting plenty of attention from local media this week because of a family connection to the Triangle area. His first cousin is Duke All-America basketball star Jabari Parker, who left the Blue Devils after his freshman season and could be a top-3 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft next month.

    Finau was a solid high school basketball star and had college scholarship offers from several schools, including both Utah and Utah State. The 6-4” center averaged 11 rebounds a game his senior season but opted for grass over the hardwood.

    “I’ve wanted to be a professional golfer since I was a kid,” he said.

    NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour will head take next week off before returning for the inaugural Cleveland Open June 2-8. The first-year event will be held at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Lakewood Country Club in Westlake, Ohio.

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