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Spears grabs 1-stroke lead in Georgia

Ryan Spears shot 6-under-par 66 on Thursday and grabbed the first-round lead at the South Georgia Classic.

Spears, who finished 11th at the Chile Classic this season, picked up six birdies during his bogey free-round -- good for a 1-stroke lead over Philip Pettitt, Jr., Troy Merritt and Bhavik Patel.

"This feels really good because coming in I didn't feel this course suited my game," said Spears, a Web.com Tour rookie. "It's a long golf course and I was struggling the first couple of days this week."

Ariel Canete, Dusty Fielding, Tyrone Van Aswegen, Woody Austin, Duffy Waldorf, Will MacKenzie, Alexandre Rocha and Scott Gutschewski share fifth place after opening-round 68s at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club.

Two-time PGA Tour winner Daniel Chopra and 15 others shot 69, while current money list leader Edward Loar and John Daly ended the opening round knotted at 2-under-par 70 with large group.

Pettitt teed off with the first group and carded six birdies against a single bogey to hit the clubhouse with the lead, but Spears charged out of the gate and eventually moved in front.

The rookie, who withdrew from the WNB Golf Classic two weeks ago with strep throat, needed just 12 holes to wrestle away the lead, carding all six of his birdies and needing only 14 putts over that span.

"Health wise I'm back to 100 percent," said Spears. "Confidence wise it was 50-50. Coming in here and playing a 7,800-yard golf course is not something you look forward to."

Lead in hand, Spears parred out, two-putting on each of his final five holes to retain the first-round advantage.

"I'd give that one of the best rounds I've played all-time because it's so demanding from a distance standpoint," he said. "You have to be laser-like with the long irons. For a guy who doesn't hit it as far, you have to hit it in certain parts of the fairways and cut off the angles when you can. My goal was to give myself a chance to make par on every hole and I had that opportunity."

NOTES: The Kinderlou Forest Golf Club is the longest on the Web.com Tour ... Spears made the cut in his first four starts this season ... This week's purse is $650,000 with $117,000 going to the champion ... Gary Christian withdrew prior to the start of the round and was replaced by Duffy Waldorf, who shot 68 ... Last year, Luke List fired four rounds in the 60s last year en route to a 2-stroke win over Brian Stuard. List moved on to the PGA Tour and is playing in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans this week.