Chip-ins help Bryan to early lead at Puntacana

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic. — Wesley Bryan chipped in for eagle early and for birdie late, giving him a 9-under 63 on Thursday for a three-shot lead in the Corales Puntacana Championship.

Bryan birdied his last two holes to stretch his lead to three shots over five players, a group that includes former PGA Tour winners Charley Hoffman and Troy Merritt, along with tour rookie Parker Coody.

The tournament is held opposite the RBC Heritage, site of Bryan’s only PGA Tour victory. The South Carolina native even took part in Harbour Town’s promotional day last month, but with injuries to his left shoulder and his wrist, his game has suffered.

Bryan has spent more time delivering YouTube content with his brother, George. They first gained fame with their trick shots.

There was nothing tricky about his 63, outside of the chip-in for eagle on the par-5 fourth on the Corales course at Puntacana Resort & Club, and his chip-in for birdie on the par-3 17th. Bryan also birdied the 18th.

His 63 matched his low round on the PGA Tour. Bryan also shot 63 in the third round of the Genesis Open at Riviera in 2017.

“Got off to a good start, which was nice,” Bryan said. “But I mean, I’ve been hitting it nice leading up to this week. It’s fun to actually go out there and make some birdies, and had a couple chip-ins, which was nice as well.”

Hoffman is 47 and already had a surprise start to his year with a playoff loss in the Phoenix Open. He’s trying to build on that and added a trip to the Dominican Republic.

He started on the back nine, played bogey-free on a breezy day and finished with three straight birdies.

As an opposite-field event, the winner gets into the PGA Championship and receives a two-year exemption, which more than makes up for not getting a spot in the Masters.

“This year every event means a ton,” Hoffman said. “Everyone knows how important is it to get in that top 50, top 70 to get in the playoffs. I got off to a good start this year, struggled a little bit – I didn’t struggle, just missed a couple cuts by a few shots.

“Late in my career every event means a ton and obviously trying to get a W is the most important thing this week, and then obviously put myself in position for the playoffs.”

The group at 67 included Billy Horschel and Pierceson Coody, the twin brother of Parker. Their grandfather is Charles Coody, the 1971 Masters champion.

Nicolai Hojgaard, who briefly had the lead on Saturday at the Masters, on Thursday had five birdies, six bogeys and seven pars for a 1-over 73.

The 23-year-old from Denmark is the only Masters participant playing at Puntacana.

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