Kuchar Claxton Resume Battle


Nationwide TourRALEIGH, N.C. -- Matt Kuchar and Paul Claxton, combatants in a playoff two weeks ago, each posted 6-under-par 65s on Thursday and share the first-round lead of the Rex Hospital Open.
Tim O'Neal, Hunter Haas, Brenden Pappas, Joe Daley, Michael Sim and Gary Christian are knotted in third place at 5-under-par 66 at the TPC at Wakefield Plantation.
Kuchar, who won the playoff against Claxton, began on the back nine Thursday and promptly opened with a bogey at No. 10. He rebounded from the dropped shot with three birdies in a row from the 12th and got to 3 under par for the championship with a birdie at the par-5 closing hole.
Kuchar, who won the Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR in 2002, parred his first four holes on the second nine. He recorded back-to-back birdies from the fifth, then closed with a birdie at the ninth to grab his share of first place.
'I didn't necessarily drive it great today, but well enough to be in play,' said Kuchar, the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion. 'I putted really well today. Any putt that I had to make was inside that kind of range that you feel you should make.'
Kuchar had not won anywhere since the Honda Classic. Two weeks ago he defeated Claxton on the third extra hole to get back into the winner's circle, but the former Georgia Tech standout is not getting a big head.
'Confidence is a funny thing,' acknowledged Kuchar. 'A month or two ago I was playing well and missing cuts. I knew I was playing well, but when I kept missing cuts I'd get more and more frustrated.'
Claxton also teed off on the back nine and, like Kuchar, soared up the leaderboard with a run of three birdies in a row. Claxton collected three in a row from the 13th, then parred his final three holes on his opening nine.
Claxton birdied the fourth, seventh and ninth holes to earn his piece of the lead.
'I played real solid,' said Claxton. 'I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens and made some putts when I hit it close. I feel like I'm swinging better.'
Johnson Wagner, Roberto Coceres, Josh Broadway, Matthew Jones, Boo Weekley, David Mathis, Joel Edwards, Rick Price, Erik Compton, Michael Putnam, Charlie Wi, Andrew Pratt and Jason Enloe are tied for ninth place at minus-4.
Eric Axley, who won this event as a Monday qualifier last year, is not in good shape to become the first player in Nationwide Tour history to successfully defend a title.
He was at 2 under par through the turn, but recorded four bogeys and a double-bogey at his last to shoot a 4-over 75. Axley is part of a group tied for 139th place.
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