Darren Clarke six off McGladrey Classic lead

Northern Irishman shot an opening-round 69 as Briny Baird and Brian Gay set pace in Georgia

Darren Clarke plays a shot on the 17th hole during the first round of The McGladrey Classic at Sea Island’s Seaside Course in  Georgia. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Darren Clarke plays a shot on the 17th hole during the first round of The McGladrey Classic at Sea Island’s Seaside Course in Georgia. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 21:31

Americans Briny Baird and Brian Gay shared the early lead on the first day of The McGladrey Classic in Georgia, with sole Irish challenger Darren Clarke six shots adrift.

Making his comeback as a full-time member of the PGA Tour after a seven-year absence, the Dungannon man endured a mixed round, but emerged on one under par after four birdies and three bogeys.

He was immediately under par with a three at the par-four 10th but gave the shot back at the next before consecutive birdies on 14 and 15. The former British Open champion then bogeyed the 17th and the fourth but a birdie at five saw him come home in a 35 and sign for a 69.

The leading duo shot opening-round 63s to sit seven under after fog had delayed play by almost two hours in the morning. Former US Open champion Webb Simpson was one of three players two shots back alongside fellow American Kevin Kisner and South Korean Seung-yul Noh.

Baird has not recorded a win in his previous 364 appearances on Tour but could break that duck this week after a stunning start at Sea Island. The 41-year-old recorded a flawless round as he birdied the second, third and fourth holes before hitting another hot streak at the end of his day with further birdies at 14, 15, 16 and 17.

Gay did have a blemish on his card as he dropped a shot on the 12th but he countered that with eight birdies in calm conditions.

Simpson, Noh and Kisner were two behind after firing rounds of 65 and there was a large group behind them on four under including Jonathan Byrd and Camilo Villegas.

Will MacKenzie was the best of the afternoon starters as he sat four under after six holes with former Masters champion Trevor Immelman a further shot back through eight.

Major champions YE Yang, Retief Goosen and Ben Curtis were all on two under having completed their rounds while defending champion Tommy Gainey was level par.

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