Ken Duke and Cameron Tringale topped the Zurich Classic leaderboard at 7-under-par 65 Thursday in Avondale, La., leaving defending champion Bubba Watson six strokes back in his first tournament since winning the Masters.
Tringale birdied the final four holes and finished the round with eight birdies and a bogey. Duke had seven birdies in a bogey-free round. Both players are winless on the PGA Tour.
Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Daniel Chopra, and Chris Stroud were a stroke back at 66. Ben Curtis, the Texas Open winner Sunday in San Antonio, was another shot behind along with John Rollins and Jason Dufner.
Webb Simpson, a playoff loser last year in the event, had a 68.
Watson had four birdies and three bogeys in his 71. Admitting to fatigue, Watson, playing the back nine first, was 2 over through the first seven holes. He birdied the par-5 18th and followed with three more birdies and a bogey on the front nine.
“I’m very exhausted, tough trying to play golf today,’’ said Watson, who took a two-week break after the Masters. “I can’t hit a full swing yet. I knew I needed to be here being the defending champ for the local fans. So I’m here, but mentally I’m not here.’’
Second-ranked Luke Donald opened with a 73.
Tringale, coming off eighth-place finishes in the Houston Open and Texas Open, made the turn at 2 under and had a 5-under 31 on the back nine, highlighted by a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th and a 20-footer on the difficult par-3 17th.
Duke, attempting to make the most of his opportunity after a two-year exile on the Nationwide Tour, made three consecutive birdies on the front nine to make the turn at 3 under and birdied the par-5 11th and par-4 12th to get it to 5 under. He added birdies on the par-4 16th and par-5 18th.
Chopra, a two-time tour winner who has failed to make a cut this season, put himself in position to regain full-time status. He had failed to shoot in the 60s this year, a string of 15 rounds.
“The game has been fine, the results have been frustrating,’’ he said. “The harder you press in this game the tougher it gets.’’
Stricker, playing alongside Watson and Simpson, birdied four of his final five holes and saved his round with a nifty up and down on his final hole, the par-3 ninth.
Els, playing in New Orleans for the first time since missing the cut in 2002, made the turn at 5 under, but lost a bit of momentum with a bogey on the par-3 17th. He rebounded with a birdie on his closing hole.
LPGA - In Mobile, Ala., Jennifer Rosales birdied five of the first seven holes on the back nine and finished with a 5-under 67 in the Mobile Bay Classic for a share of the first-round lead with Katie Futcher, Lindsey Wright, and Caroline Hedwall.
Rosales, who won the last of her two LPGA Tour titles in 2005, had a birdie and a bogey on the front nine before making her back-nine move. The event was her first of the year on the tour.
“I’m doing scuba diving in the offseason,’’ Rosales said. “It’s fun, I really love it. It’s totally different from golf. That’s it, that’s what I’ve been doing back home.’’
Rosales, 33, has limited tour status after finishing 124th on the money list last year.
Futcher had the lead at 6 under after 17 holes, but dropped into a tie with a bogey on the par-4 ninth.
Wright won the New Zealand Women’s Open in February.
“I just played a nice round of golf,’’ she said. “I wish it was like that every day.’’
Kraft Nabisco winner Sun Young Yoo was a stroke back along with Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel, Mariajo Uribe, Sydnee Michaels, Cindy LaCrosse, Haeji Kang, and Mi Jung Hur.
European - Victor Dubuisson of France overcame tough scoring conditions to shoot a 4-under 68 and take a two-shot lead after the first-round of the Ballantine’s Championship in Seoul.
Cold weather and a fierce wind made for high scores at Blackstone Golf Club, with only 17 of the 156 players finishing under par.
Dubuisson leads a group of five players at 2 under, including Paul Casey of England.