American Wagner sets pace at blustery Colonial

5-22-08 -- American Johnson Wagner, seeking his second PGA Tour title, defied strong, gusting winds to charge two shots clear in the Colonial Invitational first round on Thursday.

Striking the ball superbly in difficult conditions at Colonial Country Club, Johnson birdied five of the last eight holes to set the pace with a sparkling seven-under-par 63.

World number two Phil Mickelson, the 2000 winner, opened with a 65 to share second place with long-hitting Brett Wetterich, one stroke in front of fellow American Glen Day.

PGA Tour veteran Corey Pavin, champion here in 1985 and 1996, returned a 67 to lie a further shot adrift among a group of eight players.

Wagner, who made his Tour breakthrough with a maiden victory at last month’s Houston Open, rolled in a 12-footer at the last to register his ninth birdie of the round.

“It was a great day and I’d take hitting the ball like this every day of my life,” the 28-year-old Texan told reporters. “I had a lot of chances—a couple of them I missed but I made the majority of them.”

Wagner, who qualified for his first Masters by winning wire-to-wire in Houston, birdied four of the first seven holes before bogeying the eighth for an outward nine of three-under 32.

Although he dropped another shot at the par-four 10th, the American surged ahead of the field with his strong finish in gusting winds.

“Any time I play in Texas it means a lot to me and winning in Houston is going to help me tremendously, especially having led there wire-to-wire,” Wagner said.

“Hopefully, I will be in a similar situation all week this week and maybe it will be more comfortable this time.”

American world number five Jim Furyk and title holder Rory Sabatini of South Africa opened with 71s while eighth-ranked K.J. Choi of South Korea carded a 73.