Lancaster Surprise Leader at John Deere

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2006 John Deere ClassicSILVIS, Ill. -- It took Neal Lancaster a while to wake up. When he finally did, he was already well on his way to shooting his best round in two years.
 
Lancaster fired a 7-under 64 in the morning wave Thursday at the John Deere Classic, shocking even himself with a display of accuracy that netted the 44-year-old grinder eight birdies and a one-shot lead at TPC Deere Run.
 
'I was hitting it right at the flag,' a smiling Lancaster said after finding 16 greens in regulation and 12 of 14 fairways. 'Actually, I was shocked a couple of times.'
 
He led Duffy Waldorf, Kenny Perry, Scott Gutschewski, Jason Dufner and Paul Stankowski by one shot.
 
Waldorf was tied for the lead with one hole left, but he made bogey from a bunker at the 18th and shot a 6-under 65 to join the others in a tie for second place.
 
Bob May and Kevin Sutherland shared seventh place at 5-under 66, and there were 12 players tied for ninth at 67.
 
Lancaster started in the first morning group off No. 10, beginning his round at 7:00 a.m. local time. Playing partner Greg Owen asked him on No. 4 -- their 13th hole -- if he was awake yet.
 
'Not yet,' Lancaster responded.
 
But he had already made five birdies by then -- back-to-back from the 10th and 14th holes, and another at the 18th to make the turn in just 31 shots.
 
Just as the wind began to pick up, Lancaster set off on another birdie run beginning at No. 4, where he made the first of three straight birdies to get to 8-under par.
 
The wind aided his group at their last hole, par-4 ninth, where it was blowing in the direction of the green. But Lancaster made his only bogey there to fall back to 7-under.
 
'I hit three-wood off the tee. I think the two guys I was playing with hit driver, wedge, and the hole is 500 yards,' said Lancaster, who shot a 64 for the first time since 2005.
 
'With no humidity the course is going to dry out over the next three days. But the wind is picking up. Some holes are playing longer. The greens are soft, very receptive, and you've just got to make putts. If it's not the Open, you've got to make putts.'
 
Waldorf needed just one putt on 11 holes, the last coming after he knocked a 134-yard approach shot to 5 feet at the 17th to set up a birdie that briefly tied him with Lancaster atop the leaderboard.
 
'I had a lot of different lengths, but my speed was good,' said Waldorf, who led the field in putts per greens in regulation. 'It's nice to make some longer putts. It helps to get your round going.'
 
But Waldorf found a greenside bunker with his second shot at the 18th, then missed a 12-foot par putt to drop out of a tie for the lead.
 
With no top-10 finishes this season, the 44-year-old Waldorf currently ranks 144th in FedEx Cup points. Only the top 144 players will be eligible for the new PGA TOUR playoffs beginning in August.
 
'I feel like this is my run to see if I can move my way up the list,' said Waldorf, a four-time PGA TOUR winner.
 
Among the players tied with Waldorf for second place only Perry ranks in the top 100 in FedEx Cup points. Lancaster, the leader, is among the lowest-ranked players in the field in FedEx Cup points at No. 208.
 
In fact, the field includes only one player inside the top five: Masters champion Zach Johnson, who ranks fifth. Johnson had a 1-under 70 Thursday and was tied for 56th place.
 
With the top players either taking off or playing in Scotland ahead of the British Open, this week's field is lacking in star power.
 
The tournament took a further hit when Michelle Wie, scheduled to play for the third time on a sponsor's exemption, withdrew to continue rehabilitation on her injured wrist.
 
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