SILVIS, July 8, 2011 (AFP) - American Kris Blanks birdied his final five holes to fire an eight-under par 63 and seize a one-stroke lead after Thursday's opening round of the $4.5 million US PGA John Deere Classic.
Blanks, whose best PGA showing was a share of second at last year's Puerto Rico Open, seized a one-stroke edge over countrymen Davis Love and Steve Marino and Canada's Matt McQuillan with US players Mark Wilson and Kyle Stanley on 65.
Blanks, who began on the back nine, opened with a birdie only to bogey the 11th. He answered with three birdies in a row starting at the 12th, then began his back nine with a birdie at the first.
After a bogey at the par-4 fourth, Blanks responded with birdies on his final five holes to seize the lead, including a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-4 fifth and an 11-footer at the ninth to take the lead alone.
"It was good to finally see some putts fall," Blanks said. "I've been struggling with (putting) all year, so that was definitely a positive. It's just fun to make some putts. I thought my speed was real good all day."
Blanks, 38, has missed the cut in 11 of his 20 starts this season and ranks 75 in putting on the US tour.
US veteran Steve Stricker, trying to win the John Deere for the third year in a row, was in a group of 12 players on 66 that included Australian Cameron Percy and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge.
McQuillan, a rookie who has missed 10 cuts in a row, won his way onto this season's US PGA Tour in last year's qualifying tournament after giving up his career in 2005 for two years of bartending.
"After about a year working, I realized golf wasn't too bad," McQuillan said.
Three seasons on developmental tours followed before the Canadian won his way onto the PGA but made his only cut in Hawaii in January and has won only $12,705 all year.
"It's very difficult and to stay positive and patient has been the key for me," McQuillan said. "I'm out here playing with the best players in the world.
"So it's very tough to stay positive and patient. But I just figure I'm out here, I qualified to get out here, so I'm trying to have fun and make some birdies."
After opening with an eagle sandwiched between bogeys, McQuillan made seven birdies to finish the day, three of them in a row starting at the par-3 12th.
"I figured I got my great stuff and bad stuff out early and then just tried to make some good swings," he said.
Results on Thursday after the first round of the $4.5 million US PGA John Deere Classic (USA unless noted, par 71):
63 - Kris Blanks
64 - Davis Love, Steve Marino, Matt McQuillan (CAN)
65 - Mark Wilson, Kyle Stanley
66 - Charles Howell, Josh Teater, Lee Janzen, Steve Stricker, DA Points, Paul Goydos, Brendon de Jonge (ZIM), Cameron Percy (AUS), Zach Johnson, Chez Reavie, Jim Herman, Cameron Beckman
67 - Greg Chalmers (AUS), David Hearn (CAN), Steven Bowditch (AUS), Arjun Atwal (IND), Michael Sim (AUS), Jason Day (AUS)
68 - Jhonattan Vegas (VEN), Alexandre Rocha (BRA)
69 - Nathan Green (AUS), Rod Pampling (AUS), Aron Price (AUS)
70 - Mark Hensby (AUS), Brian Davis (GBR), Chris Baryla (CAN), Ryuji Imada (JPN)
71 - Matt Jones (AUS), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Andres Romero (ARG)
72 - Sunghoon Kang (KOR), Richard S. Johnson (SWE), Marc Leishman (ARG), Bio Kim (KOR)
73 - Charlie Wi (KOR), Jarrod Lyle (AUS), Fabian Gomez (ARG)
75 - Mike Weir (CAN)