FORT WORTH, Texas - Johnson Wagner bogeyed two of three holes midway through the first round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational on Thursday. That was only a small hiccup on his way to matching his best score on the PGA Tour.
After his approach at No. 10 missed the green for a bogey, Wagner responded with three consecutive birdies, including a nifty up-and-down on the 611-yard 11th hole. He then added two more before the round was over to increase his birdie total to nine for a 7-under 63 and a two-stroke lead over No. 2-ranked Phil Mickelson and Brett Wetterich.
"It felt like (the round) was going to slip away," Wagner said.
But it didn't, not even after his wind-pushed approach at No. 11 wound up in the rough well left of the green. Wagner flopped a shot to inside six feet of the pin on the back of the green.
"I decided to go ahead and try for the hero shot, and pulled it off," Wagner said. "It just righted the ship."
Wetterich also birdied Nos. 11-13, including a 367-yard drive on the par 5, then parred out the rest of the way to his 65. It was the best round of a disappointing season for Wetterich, who missed two months early on because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Mickelson, the 2000 champion who is at Colonial for the first time in three years, got to 5 under with a 12-foot birdie on the closing hole after missing a seven-footer at No. 17.
Five of the world's top 10 players are in the field, the most at Colonial since 2004. Mickelson was the only one to start with a subpar round, while Jim Furyk (71), Geoff Ogilvy (72), K.J. Choi (73) and Steve Stricker (74) had their varied struggles.
Calgary's Stephen Aimes tied for thirteenth after shooting 2-under 68 while Mike Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., finished the round at 1-over 71.
Glen Day was alone in fourth after a bogey-free round of 66 on a windy day, with gusts up to 56 km/h howling through Hogan's Alley.
Day hasn't had a top-three finish since 2004 and now splits time between the PGA and Nationwide tours. His 45-foot putt at the 171-yard 13th was the only of his four birdie putts over 3 1/2 feet.
"I love this golf course. I don't hit it very far. But I can still play the course because it's firm and it runs out," Day said. "This course requires shot-making. That doesn't exist in today's game. I mean these kids tee it up and hit as hard as they can in one direction, and that's it. ... I like the old style."
While length is a premium at so many modern-day layouts, the par-70, 7,054-yard tree-lined Colonial course is pretty much the same as it was when Ben Hogan won there five times from 1946-59.
Two-time Colonial champion Corey Pavin and Dudley Hart were among a group of eight players who shot 67. Another was Fort Worth resident Mark Brooks, who overcame a double-bogey 5 at No. 13 in his 25th start at Colonial. Brooks hasn't won since the 1996 PGA Championship.
Wagner was 4 under through seven holes, including two birdies on Colonial's "horrible horseshoe" - as Nos. 3-5 are known because of their layout and being the longest par 4s sandwiching a 252-yard par 3. He three-putted from 56 feet at the 194-yard 8th hole, then flew the green at No. 10 after misjudging the wind and missed a par-saving 4-foot putt after a nice chip shot.
But the bogeys didn't rattle him, as maybe they would have before he won on the PGA Tour.
"I should be playing better now that I'm a winner," Wagner said. "I'm just more comfortable, more confident, having more fun, not letting bogeys bother me or doubles bother me. ... At the beginning of the year, I would have gotten real frustrated and down."
Until his victory at the Shell Houston Open, Wagner had plenty to be upset about his game. He missed six consecutive cuts after tying for 38th in his season debut at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He finished 78th and 64th in the two weeks leading up to Houston.
"I was really kind of at rock bottom and kind of recommitted myself to my coach," Wagner said. "Everything kind of clicked in Houston."
Notes: Defending champion Rory Sabbatini opened with a birdie at No. 1, but had bogeys on all three holes in the "horseshoe." He finished with a 1-over 71. ... The last time a first-round leader went on to won the Colonial was Ian Baker-Finch in 1989. ... Lindy Ruff, coach of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, was the caddy for Hart, a New York native who moved from Florida to Buffalo two years ago. "I had to kind of guide him around a little bit," Hart said. "He's used to casual golf with his buddies, making noise." But Hart said Ruff did fine.