SAN FRANCISCO: Hank Lebioda was firing on all cylinders on Thursday, firing nine birdies in an eight-under-par 63 to take the first-round lead in the US PGA Tour Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Lebioda said it "felt like everything" was working for him at Monterey Peninsula, the par-71 course that is one of three in use over the first three rounds along with Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill -- both par-72 layouts.
"I hit a lot of great iron shots. I made the putts when I was close. It was a really nice day," added the 29-year-old American, who is ranked 420th in the world and in search of a first US PGA Tour title.
Lebioda, who hasn't made a cut on Tour since the 3M Open in July, tied his career-low score and was a stroke clear of England's Harry Hall and Americans Kurt Kitayama and Chad Ramey.
Hall and Kitayama both carded seven-under 64s at Monterey Peninsula while Ramey posted a seven-under 65 at Pebble Beach.
Lebioda said recent work on his putting was finally starting to pay off.
"For probably the last couple weeks or so I felt like my putting had really turned a corner," he said. "Even though I may not have shown the results. But I felt more confident standing over the ball. I liked what I was looking at visually standing over it. I knew it was just a matter of time.
"So today, fortunately it was one of the days where quite a few of 'em did go in. Not every day is like that. I was glad I was able to take advantage of it today."
Hall teed off on 10 at Monterey Peninsula and his seven-under effort featured an eagle at the 16th hole and a string of five straight birdies from the third through the seventh, a run that ended with his second bogey of the day, at the eighth.
"Kept it in play off the tee," Hall said. "Hit a lot fairways. Hit a lot of greens."
after failing to take advantage of two early par-fives, he hit driver off the tee at 16 and a hybrid second shot that left him a 20-foot eagle putt.
"The birdie streak on the front was pretty cool because I think I went bogey and then had a par on the second hole and then had five in a row from three onwards. So it was really good," he said.
Hall was especially pleased to find himself in the clubhouse one off the lead since "coming down the last two holes it started to blow 45 miles an hour.
"It was crazy," he said, and more wind and possible rain was in the forecast for the rest of the week.
'Cool experience' for Bale
The blustery winds were just another challenge in the tournament that features not only the complication of three courses but the addition of amateurs playing alongside the pros.
The celebrities teeing it up this year include such sports stars as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and recently retired Wales captain Gareth Bale.
Bale admitted to some first-time nerves on the first tee.
"I think every amateur will tell you, even though we're used to playing in front of 80,000 or more live on TV, it's a completely different sport," he said. "Outside your comfort zone and something that's just different. It's a cool experience. Lucky that I hit one of my best shots down the first fairway, which was nice."
Defending champion Tom Hoge, who out-dueled Jordan Spieth last year to win his first PGA Tour title, carded a one-under 71 at Pebble Beach.
Spieth posted a one-under round at Spyglass Hill. -- AFP
Pebble Beach Pro-Am scores
Leading first-round scores (USA unless noted):
63 - Hank Lebioda
64 - Kurt Kitayama, Harry Hall (ENG)
65 - Chad Ramey
65 - Martin Trainer (FRA), Eric Cole, Aaron Baddeley (AUS)
66 - Ben Martin, Harry Higgs
67 - Scott Stallings, Kyle Westmoreland, Keith Mitchell