Piercy leads by two after Round 1 at Shell

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HUMBLE, Texas – Cloudy skies gave way to breezy conditions Thursday at the Shell Houston Open, where a two-time PGA Tour winner tops the standings. Here’s how things look after one round at the Golf Club of Houston, with Scott Piercy holding a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Scott Piercy (-9), Alex Cejka (-7), J.B. Holmes (-7), Phil Mickelson (-6), Charles Howell III (-6), Luke Guthrie (-6), Shawn Stefani (-6)

What it means: Piercy is finally healthy after missing much of last season with an elbow injury, and he quickly grabbed the lead after tying the course record. He doesn’t have much breathing room, though, as scoring conditions allowed more than half the field to break par.

Round of the day: Piercy is no stranger to low numbers, and he put up another one with a 9-under 63 in the opening round. The veteran found 17 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts, reeling off a stretch of five straight birdies in the middle of his round to put him in contention as he eyes a third win.

Best of the rest: Holmes already has a pair of runner-up finishes to his credit this season, and he is again in the mix after an opening 65 that required only 24 putts. He began his round with a hole-out eagle, then added six more birdies, including four en route to a front-nine 30.

Biggest disappointment: Reigning champ Matt Jones grabbed his first win in dramatic fashion here a year ago, but the Aussie is unlikely to defend after an even-par 72. Jones canceled three birdies with a trio of bogeys and will need a sub-par effort Friday just to make the cut.

Main storyline heading into Friday: The chase pack includes several big names, but none bigger than Mickelson, who showed signs of life with an opening-round 66. He has contended with regularity at this event in recent years, and another strong effort in the second round could help build momentum heading into the Masters.

Shot of the day: Patrick Reed got off to a slow start but turned things around at No. 4, where he holed out a wedge from 99 yards for eagle. It was one of two hole-outs on the day for Reed, who opened with a 4-under 68.

Quote of the day: ”Currently I’m not even qualified for the Drive, Chip and Putt. I’ve got some work ahead of me.” – Howell, a resident of Augusta, Ga., who needs to win to qualify for the Masters.