He had eight birdies in a 10-hole stretch from No. 12 to No. 3, added two more on Nos. 7 and 8 and putted out for par on No. 9 just after sunset. “I hit a lot of fairways and I just gave myself a lot of looks and the putter was hot," Clark said.
Clark was a stroke off the course record of 60 set by Grant Waite in 1996 and matched by Mark Calcavecchia in 2001 and Phil Mickelson in 2005 and 2013. The 26-year-old former University of Oregon player is in his second full season on the tour. He missed the cuts the last two weeks, shooting 69-79 last week at Torrey Pines.
“I actually played really well the last two weeks,” Clark said. “I just wasn't making putts. I wasn't capitalizing.” Billy Horschel was second, holing nearly 200 feet of putts in an afternoon 63. “I looked on the leaderboard and saw I was at 8 under and I saw Billy Horschel was, too,” Clark said. “I said, 'Man, he's going to rain on my parade.' So, kind of to myself I said, 'All right, let's go get past him.'”
Horschel had an eagle and six birdies. “Any day you shoot 8 under, no bogeys, you can't complain,” Horschel said. He had the big putting day after working with instructor Todd Anderson. “We made a couple changes, a couple tweaks to the putting stuff that was a little off,” Horschel said.
J.B. Holmes was another stroke back after a roller-coaster start — highlighted by a hole-in-one — and big finish in the morning wave. He won the event in 2006 and 2008 for his first PGA Tour titles. “I like playing in the desert. I just enjoy being here," Holmes said. “The greens are always usually in great shape. They're in great shape this week — they're quick, they’re firm."
The long hitter from Kentucky played the first five holes in even par, following a double bogey on the second, with a birdie on the third, the ace on the fourth and a bogey on the fifth. He used a 7-iron on the 175-yard fourth.
“I didn't feel like everything was going my way, so I wasn't thinking it was actually going to go in,” Holmes said. “But I hit it up there. I knew it was a good shot, and I thought I'm going to have a short putt for birdie and then it disappeared."
Holmes birdied the final three holes and seven of the last 10, hitting to 4 feet on 16 and 17 and closing with a 25-footer. He fought right elbow pain, seeking treatment from his trainer at the turn. “It's been hurting a little bit more lately than it normally does," Holmes said.
Tom Hoge, Harris English, Bud Cauley and Byeong Hun An shot 65, and Nate Lashley, K.J. Choi, Sungjae Im, Adam Long and Hudson Swafford were at 66. Jon Rahm opened with a 67. He can jump from No. 3 to No. 1 in the world with a victory, provided top-ranked Brooks Koepka — tied for 48th in the Saudi International after an opening 70 — finishes out of the top four.
“I'll take four days of playing tee to green as good as I did today,” Rahm said. The former Arizona State star wore maroon and gold shoes in honor of late Sun Devils and Cardinals football player Pat Tillman.
Playing partner Justin Thomas played the 16th in a Kobe Bryant jersey from the late Lakers great's high school days at Lower Merion in Pennsylvania. “I've played a lot of golf in that, believe it or not, so it felt pretty comfortable,” Thomas said.
The fourth-ranked Thomas shot 68 following a two-week break. He opened the year at Kapalua with his second victory of the season, then missed the cut in Honolulu. Hideki Matsuyama, the 2016 and 2017 winner, matched Rahm with a 67 in the threesome with Thomas.
Defending champion Rickie Fowler had seven bogeys in a 74. Jordan Spieth also shot 74, making four bogeys. Bubba Watson, playing alongside Spieth, bogeyed two of his last three for a 69.
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