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Knox cards 63, takes Safeway lead

Jordan Spieth chips the ball onto the ninth green of the Silverado Resort North Course during the first round of the Safeway Open PGA golf tournament Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Napa, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Russell Knox shot a 9-under 63 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Safeway Open, the first event of the new PGA Tour season.

After missing the FedExCup playoffs by two spots to close last season, Knox had seven birdies and eagled the 550-yard, par-5 fifth hole.

Sam Burns, Cameron Percy and Bo Hoag were a stroke back. Two-time Safeway Open champ Brendan Steele joined Pat Perez at 65.

Knox is seeking his first victory since 2016 when he captured both the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and Travelers Championship for his only PGA Tour wins.

Historically a slow starter, the 35-year-old Scot had the first-round lead at Silverado Resort despite more early struggles.

Knox hit his first tee shot of the day into the rough and had to scramble for par. After two-putting on the par-3 second hole, Knox left his approach on No. 3 41 feet short of the pin, forcing another two-putt.

A birdie on No. 4 got Knox back on track, and the eagle on No. 5 jump-started his rise up the leaderboard.

“I knew this week that par-5 scoring would be big to your ultimate performance,” Knox said. “I hit a beautiful drive on No. 5 and hit a nice little 3-hybrid in there and managed to get it back there kind of close and made a nice putt. Obviously, it was a day where a lot of good things happened and definitely nice to get off to a good start.”

Knox was admittedly disappointed by missing out on the FedExCup playoffs – he had qualified the previous six years – but used the time off to prepare for the Safeway Open while adjusting to new coach Mark McCann.

“I’ve worked as hard as I ever have the last two weeks before this event, so it’s really nice to see something good happen immediately,” Knox said. “I definitely feel like my game is heading in the right direction.”

Burns made a late charge on the back nine and overcame a bogey on 17 when he his 7-foot putt for par went long. That came one hole after Burns holed out an eagle from the fairway on the par-5 16th. He came back to birdie 18 to get to 8 under.

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