Greensboro, North Carolina :India's Arjun Atwal fired a nine-under par 61 on Thursday to match the tournament record and seize a two-stroke lead after the first round of the US PGA Wyndham Championship.
Atwal, who played his way into the field by firing a 67 at another course on Monday in a qualifying event, had a bogey-free round at the par-70 Sedgefield course to equal the tournament mark set in 2008 by Sweden's Carl Pettersson.
"You get used to making a lot of birdies in the Monday qualifier otherwise you won't make it," Atwal said. "I kind of continued that today. It was fun."
Atwal opened and closed the front nine with birdies and added two more on the par-3 third and seventh holes, the latter completing a back-to-back birdie run. He birdied the 11th and 14th holes then closed with back-to-back birdies.
"I didn't really expect a 61," Atwal said. "I was expecting just to play well because I've been swinging the club nicely, but 61 is pretty special."
American Brandt Snedeker, who won this event in 2007, was second on 63 with India's Jeev Milkha Singh and Americans John Rollins, Kevin Streelman, Lucas Glover, David Toms and Boo Weekley sharing third on 64.
Early rain softened the course and made Atwal's job easier.
"Even though it was raining on those guys in the morning they were still taking it deep so I knew the golf course was playing pretty easy," Atwal said.
No Monday qualifier has won a US PGA event since Fred Wadsworth at the 1986 Southern Open, but Atwal might pull it off and reclaim the full tour playing rights he lost last month when a medical exemption from last year expired.
Atwal, 37, missed more than four months of last season due to a shoulder injury and was given a medical extension into 2010 but had to win 586,007 dollars to keep the status beyond eight events.
Atwal made seven cuts but cracked the top 40 only twice and his prize money of 350,490 dollars was not enough so his playing status was revoked after last month's Canadian Open.
"I've been playing well but I haven't been able to put four rounds together this year so that's what I'm trying to achieve this week," Atwal said.
A victory at this 5.1 million-dollar event would bring Atwal 918,000 dollars and secure his US PGA playing status for two years.
A top-10 finish would put him in the Viking Classic next October after the PGA playoffs, which begin next week. Atwal cannot qualify for the playoffs because he cannot gain points toward the playoffs without tour playing status.
Atwal's best career PGA finish was a share of second at the 2005 BellSouth Classic. Atwal began the week on his honeymoon with wife Ritika in Bali, Indonesia, but returned to his US home because major storms were forecast.
Atwal was listed as the 23rd alternate for the Atlanta event when the week began but storms at the event site forced a Saturday start to an event trimmed to 54 holes, prompting so many players to withdraw that he made the field and reached a five-man playoff, only to find the water with his second shot.