Fortinet Championship: Unheralded Justin Lower leads first PGA Tour event of the season

Little-known American Justin Lower was the first-round leader at the PGA Tour's season-opening Fortinet Championship before darkness halted play.

Lower, who only narrowly retained his playing privileges for the 2022/23 season, equaled his best-ever round on tour with a bogey-free nine-under-par 63 at Silverado in Napa, California. 

That was good enough for a two-stroke lead over the rest of the field.

"Any time you can open up with a 63 is pretty awesome," Lower said. "But a lot of golf left so need to keep at it and go the next three days."

Lower revealed he was in tears last month when he thought he had lost his Tour card by a single stroke. However, he ultimately survived after the group of LIV Golf defectors were removed from the season points list.

"It has been kind of a whirlwind after that, just the emotions of it and everything," said the 33-year-old. "I feel really grateful to be here."

Play was delayed at the start of the day in Napa for 90 minutes due to fog, which meant the last groups were unable to complete the first round before darkness fell.

Defending champion Max Homa lies in second place after an opening 65, while South Korean duo Byeong Hun An and S.H. Kim share third place with J.J. Spaun a shot further back.

Rickie Fowler was part of the nine-man group on five-under 67.

The day belonged to Lower, however, who had a run of four straight birdies from the par-5 16th, having started on the 10th.

Highlights of his round included a 19-footer for birdie at the par-4 17th, while he would also chip in from the rough from 16 feet at the par-5 fifth, before holing another chip shot from over 20 feet at the par-3 seventh.

"I had two hole outs. They were just little chips but they were tough chips. I think I went the whole fall season last year without having a hole-out," Lower said.

"Just an awesome round. Tee to green was really good. Just kept it steady and when I got into trouble just tried to get it back in play and limit mistakes as much as I could. It ended up working out."

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