Ben Martin shoots course record 62 to take early Zurich Classic lead

With little to no wind to contend with, 58 of the 78 players that teed off Thursday in the morning wave top open the Zurich Classic of New Orleans shot par or better on the TPC Louisiana layout.

That included a course record-tying 8-under-par 64 by Andrew Svoboda and a 65 by Peter Hanson, who came within an inch of joining the eight other players who did it before Svoboda.

Little did they know, however, that the best was yet to come.

The scores were expected to go up when the wind started to kick up late in the morning round, but that didn’t bother Ben Martin one bit.

Coming on the heels of a third-place tie at the RBC Heritage on Sunday, which came after he missed the cut in sevcn of eight previous starts, Martin bettered the course record by two shots with a dazzling 10-under 62 late Thursday afternoon.

A Web.com Tour graduate whose previous low round on the PGA Tour was a 65, Martin blew that score away with a 6-under 30 on the front nine before shaving four more strokes off par on the back side for a 32.

His round was punctuated by a chip-in birdie from 55 feet in front of the green at the difficult par-3 17th. Guarded large lake that runs the length of the left side of the fiarway, No. 17 ranked as the second-hardest hole on Thursday with the 156-man field carding only nine birdies.

Martin, who also holds the course record of 12-under 60 at his home course in Greenwood, S.C., holds a two-shot lead over Svoboda heading into Friday’s second round.

“It was one of those days you dream about happening,” the 26-year-old Martin said. “I started the round with two birdies in a row and they just kept rolling in.”

Svoboda also had a bogey-free round with most of his damage coming on the back nine after making the turn with a 2-under 34. He reeled off six birdies and capped his round with a birdie-birdie finish for a 30 on the back nine to equal the old course mark.

One of the other eight players who shared the old course record was Billy Horschel, who did it in the final round last season to win the tournament. Horschel opened defense of his title Thursday with a 2-over 74.

Svoboda completed his round just minutes after Peter Hanson, a member of the 2012 European Ryder Cup team, had a chance to equal the course mark as well.

But Hanson slid his 6-foot birdie try to the right and settled for a 65.

Hanson, who started his round on the back nine and was 3-under, took an unplayable on the first hole to drop to 2-under before shaving five strokes off par on a four-hole stretch starting at No. 3.

After dropping in three birdies in a row, he made an eagle from the fairway when his 184-yard approach shot at the par-4 sixth took a couple of hops and found the bottom of the cup.

Seung-Yul Noh, who also played in the afternoon, shot a 65 as well with seven birdies and no bogeys on his card.

Former Tulane golfer Michael Thompson, Erik Compton and Chad Collins were four shots off the pace after shooting 66, while Jeff Overton, Stuart Appleby and Robert Streb were another shot back at 67.

Svoboda capped his 64 with a 24-foot birdie at No. 17 and a 12-footer at the par-5 finishing hole.

“I drove the ball really great today … I made the turn at 2-under and then kind of caught fire (on the back nine),” he said. “But I hit the ball really well. When I missed the green, I was just off and made some easy saves.”

After he and the other 77 players who went out in the morning posted a scoring average of 70.94 with gentle winds out of the south at about 10 mph, the afternoon players had a 72.22 when gusts kicked up to about 20 mph.

Martin’s score could have been better, but he missed a five-foot birdie putt at No. 9 and a chip shot for birdie on No. 16 hit the flag stick and bounced away — leaving him with a par there.

“Really, everything was working well,” said Martin, who added birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 after his birdie-birdie start to stand 4-under through five. “I got a little nervous on the putt on (No. 9) because it was for a 29. I’ve never shot a 29 before.

“But it was one of those days that it’s just like you draw it up. After missing the birdie at the ninth, I went to No. 10 and made a 14-footer for birdie and I think that kind of kept me going.”

Martin said he wasn’t aware of what the old course record was until after signing his scorecard when his father told him he broke it by two shots.

“I knew I was playing well,” he said, “but I had no idea what the course record was.”

You know he does now.