Kelly Leads Big Easy Reappears

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2007 Verizon HeritageHILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Jerry Kelly, fresh off a top-five finish at last week's Masters, fired an 8-under-par 63 on Thursday to lead by two after the first round of the Verizon Heritage.
 
Kelly had an impressive Masters, including an under-par round on Sunday, while the man in second place did not have a good showing at Augusta National Golf Club.
 
Jerry Kelly
Jerry Kelly reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole. (WireImage)
Ernie Els, a three-time major champion, posted a 6-under-par 65 Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links and is alone in second place.
 
'Whatever happened in the past, you can't bring it back,' said Els, who missed his first cut in a major championship since the 1999 PGA Championship. 'For some reason, I wasn't there mentally. I felt I needed to focus on my game this week.'
 
The only player in the field this week who played better than Kelly at the Masters was winner Zach Johnson. His first round as a major winner was a 1-under 70, which put him in a tie for 20th place.
 
On this day, however, it was Kelly who came out on top.
 
Kelly began on the back nine Thursday and parred his first hole before a run of birdies. At the 11th, he hit an 8-iron to 5 feet to set up birdie, then made back-to-back birdies when his 8-iron approach landed him even closer than that on 11. Kelly racked up his third straight birdie thanks to an 18-footer at 13.
 
He hit his tee ball into the water at the 14th, but got up and down easily for what Kelly characterized as an 'easy bogey.' From there, Kelly played spectacularly with a pair of 20-footers for birdie at 15 and 16.
 
Kelly continued his great run on the front side. He knocked a wedge to a foot to set up the tap-in birdie at one, then missed the green with his second at the par-5 second. Kelly pitched his third to 4 feet and holed the birdie putt to reach 6 under par for the championship.
 
Kelly parred the third, then hit a 5-iron to 15 feet at the par-3 fourth. He drained the birdie putt and got up and down from in front of the green for a birdie at the par-5 fifth. Kelly played a 7-iron to 4 feet to set up his 10th birdie of the round at the sixth.
 
He was 9 under par with three holes to play, but things went downhill quickly. At the par-4 eighth, Kelly drove into the rough, then hit his second into the bunker. He could not get up and down for par, so that dropped his early lead to two.
 
'It was a solid ball-striking day and a solid putting day,' acknowledged Kelly. 'I had a lot of kick-ins, but I made some 20-footers, which was a good combination.'
 
Kelly is certainly one of the hottest players in the field this week, based on his finish last week at Augusta National. His tie for fifth at the Masters was his best finish of the year, and Kelly actually saw some similarities in his play from this week and last.
 
'I played no different. I putted similar, struck it similar, up-and-downs,' said Kelly, who shot a final-round, 2-under 70 at the Masters. 'I wouldn't put this golf course that far away from Augusta, but it just shows how difficult Augusta was that I felt just as good shooting 70 as I did shooting eight-under here.'
 
Els flew out of the gate with a birdie and an eagle over his first two holes. He birdied the par-5 fifth, but missed a short par putt at the eighth. The South African tapped in a short birdie putt at nine to get to 4 under par for the tournament.
 
On the second nine, Els rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt, then had makable birdie chances at both 15 and 16. At the par-3 17th, Els missed the green with his tee ball, but he holed out from the bunker to move into solo second.
 
Jose Coceres, the 2001 champion, and Stephen Leaney share third place at 5- under-par 66.
 
Fred Funk, Stewart Cink, Kevin Na, Boo Weekley and J.P. Hayes are knotted in fifth place at 4-under-par 67.
 
Defending champion Aaron Baddeley is among the group tied for 20th with Johnson.
 
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