AVONDALE — For much of the season, veteran golfer Ricky Barnes has spent a lot of time chasing low scores, trying to make cuts to play on the weekend.
On Thursday morning in the first round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Barnes, who had missed the cut in seven of his past nine starts, became the one being chased.
Playing in the first group of the day on a soggy TPC Louisiana layout, Barnes posted an 8-under-par 64 to tie the course record and grab the first-round lead in the $6.6 million tournament.
That he was able to do so was an amazing feat considering the 32-year-old was back home in Arizona on Monday for the birth of his second child and didn’t arrive in New Orleans until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
He managed to get in a 90-minute pitch-and-putt practice session before darkness fell, and just 12 hours later he found himself on the first tee with his head still in the heavy clouds above.
“Yeah, I guess I had to give her somewhat of a late birthday present,” a smiling Barnes said of his new daughter, Natalie.
Barnes equaled a course record that had been shared by six others; Kyle Reifers was the first to do it in 2007.
The par-72, 7,341-yard layout was vulnerable after taking 11/2 inches of rain during Wednesday’s pro-am. A gentle breeze and soft greens made scoring a bit easier, especially with players being allowed to lift, clean and place their ball on the soaked fairways.
Red numbers were the norm Thursday as 84 players in the 156-man field were under par, with 15 of them at 5-under or better. They produced a scoring average of 71.333 compared to a 71.897 first-round average last year.
Chasing Barnes, who has not won on the PGA Tour, were 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Boo Weekley, who had 7-under 65s. Glover birdied his last two holes to tie Weekley, who capped a bogey-free round with a 27-foot birdie on the 18th.
D.A. Points and Morgan Hoffmann were tied for fourth at 66, while 2012 Zurich Classic runner-up Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Charlie Beljan and Luke Guthrie were among 10 players who shot 67.
Barnes was the story early before lingering clouds from Wednesday’s downpour gave way to sunny skies and warmer temperatures in the afternoon to aid the late starters. Barnes, whose best finish as a pro was a tie for second in the U.S. Open when Glover won, somehow was able to focus after a miserable three-month stretch in which he made just two cuts following back-to-back top-20 finishes to open the season.
“It’s been a while,” a relieved Barnes said. “I just haven’t gotten off to good starts in the first couple of days.”
In the seven cuts he has missed, Barnes’ scoring average was 73.0. He also ranks 138th on the PGA Tour in pre-cut scoring with a 71.54 average.
But Thursday was a different story. He dropped a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 second hole and made the turn at 2-under before getting hot on the back nine.
He birdied No. 11 and put together four more birdies in a row starting at the 13th hole before an 8-foot birdie on the par-5 finishing hole wrapped up a back-nine score of 6-under 30.
“The eagle kind of got the round going,” he said. “I was 2-under through two (holes) and 3-under through four. That’s the kind of start I need, and guys do need, when they’re not playing that well. You kind of get off and get on the accelerator instead of shifting gears all the time.”
Barnes was 14-for-14 in fairways hit; he came in ranked 151st, finding the fairway just 55.9 percent of the time.
“Earlier, I wasn’t comfortable with my swing,” he said. “I wasn’t putting or chipping very good, and doubt was creeping into my mind a little bit. So I changed things up and started seeing my coach quite a bit in the last month and a half. I made a couple of cuts in that time, so I saw some good things coming.”
Weekley had an eagle at the second hole to jump-start his round and added five birdies in his final 16 holes despite a sinus problem that he came down with at the RBC Heritage last weekend.
“It was good,” Weekley said of his opening-round score. “It could have gotten real good if some of those putts would have fallen early in the round. It just felt good today. The golf swing is pretty good right now.”
Glover started his round on the back nine and made the turn at 2-under before posting four consecutive birdies to start the front nine. He gave a stroke back at No. 6 before closing with back-to-back birdies, needing just 10 putts on the final nine holes.
“Anytime you can climb up the (leaderboard) in the afternoon, it feels pretty good,” said Glover, who didn’t start his round until an hour after Barnes finished. “I hit it like I’ve been hitting it and finally putted well. I made a lot of short ones, so it was good.”
Copyright © 2016, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved