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Chasing hometown win, Hammer strikes with opening 67

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HUMBLE, Texas – A day after Cole Hammer declared that he had what it took to win the Houston Open as an amateur, the 20-year-old University of Texas standout proved Thursday those weren’t just empty words.

Hammer shrugged off an early double bogey to card eight birdies and shoot 5-under 67 in the first round at the Golf Club of Houston.

“That’s not a bad start in my book,” said Hammer, currently the world’s second-ranked amateur.

Even in times like these, with PGA Tour winners getting younger and younger, few could argue.

Hammer, making just his second pro start and first since the 2015 U.S. Open, began on the back side of a course in which the Houston native has played many times. He parred his opening hole before rinsing his tee ball right at the par-4 11th. He doubled the hole but bounced right back with a 5-foot birdie make at the par-4 12th.

Hammer (a) on 67: 'It was a great start, just what I wanted'

Hammer (a) on 67: 'It was a great start, just what I wanted'

Houston Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage

That’s when the putter got hot. He holed a 10-foot birdie at No. 16, followed by a 16-foot birdie make at No. 17. He then capped his back nine by draining a 25-foot birdie bomb, and two holes later he converted another long birdie, from 16 feet.

On a day when Hammer hit just six fairways, he needed just 25 putts. He totaled almost 119 feet on the greens and ranked second in strokes gained: putting when he finished play.

“I was a little bit nervous at the beginning of the round and then kind of settled down and was able to roll in some putts,” Hammer said. “It was a great start. Just what I wanted.”

After some time in the Golf Channel booth after his first round, Hammer was excited to head to Minute Maid Park to watch his Astros play in an American League Division Series elimination game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I’m praying for tonight,” Hammer said.

If the Astros win Thursday night, they’ll host the Yankees for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, to be played Saturday and Sunday. Hammer, though, isn’t just hoping he’ll provide a nice opening act for Houston sports fans over the weekend.

As he said before, he wants to win this thing.

"I think that was my mistake at the U.S. Open. I was like, 'All right, just try to make the cut maybe,'" Hammer said. "Now, I mean, obviously it would be nice to make the cut, but I'm trying to win the tournament."