LA QUINTA, Calif. – Even after Derek Lamely strung together the longest streak of birdies and eagles on the PGA Tour in nearly four years, he realized it's still very early in the Bob Hope Classic.
Lamely shot a 9-under 63 in the first round Wednesday, playing a six-hole stretch in 7 under to take a one-stroke lead over J.J. Henry and Jhonattan Vegas.
Although Lamely finished fiercely at the Palmer Private course, the second-year PGA Tour player knows first-round scores mean little in the tour's only five-day event over four fairly generous courses.
"This is going to be definitely not a sprint," Lamely said after finishing his round under picturesque conditions in the Palm Springs area. "The golf courses are perfect. The weather is just so good. You've just got to go out and stay aggressive every hole. Hopefully you can get hot and make a bunch of putts, and I actually got that going today."
Lamely had five birdies and an eagle in his six-hole run for the best stretch on the PGA Tour since Brandt Snedeker strung together an 8-under, seven-hole roll in early 2007 at Torrey Pines.
The 30-year-old Lamely was the only American rookie to win last year, although the Puerto Rico Open was an opposite-field event. After making major changes to his grip and swing shortly before winning in Puerto Rico, his biggest goal this winter is to win again in time to qualify for the Masters.
"At the end of last year, I started hitting it good, and I've been hitting it better and better as it goes on," Lamely said. "I keep getting better at the few things I've changed, so it's finally getting to the point where I can think my way around and just make some putts."
Boo Weekley led a pack of six at 65. The group includes Matt McQuillan, who only made it into the Hope field after Donnie Hammond withdrew Wednesday morning.
Henry holed a 132-yard wedge shot on his first hole at the Nicklaus Private course, but didn't get rolling until making six birdies in eight holes around the turn, finishing his season debut with his best round in seven career appearances at the Hope.
"I've probably never been this excited to start the year, both mentally and physically," Henry said. "I really felt refreshed and ready to go. (When) I got on the first hole, I had a perfect number with the wedge. You're a little nervous, haven't played a tournament in four months, and I hit this perfect shot that never left the flag."
Henry hasn't won a tournament since the 2006 Buick Championship, and hadn't played since the Deutsche Bank Championships, yet feels re-energized after taking most of the past four months off from golf while his oldest son started school.
Henry also used his fall free time to follow around his beloved TCU football team. Henry graduated from TCU in 1998, and he attended nearly all of the unbeaten Horned Frogs' games last season — including the Rose Bowl, which he watched from the sideline.
Vegas, the 26-year-old Venezuelan rookie, had an outstanding start to his fifth PGA Tour event, beating the previous best round of his short career by three strokes. He made the cut last week in the Sony Open in Hawaii, but still didn't get to finish after the field was further trimmed because of weather delays.
"I guess it was a little advantage not playing (in Hawaii) on Sunday, because I was able to get a flight Saturday night, and play this course on Sunday," Vegas said. "I actually got to see all four courses, which I think is huge for a rookie."