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Friday, 23 April 2010

A strong first round from Greg Owen put the Englishman in contention at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans but Sergio Garcia is facing a fight at TPC Louisiana on Friday to avoid a second missed cut in a row.

Owen, a halfway joint-leader at last week's Verizon Heritage before falling down the leaderboard over the weekend, fired an opening five-under-par 67 at Avondale, two shots off the first-round lead of American Jason Bohn and in a five-way tie for second.

Florida-based Owen had been level par after nine holes having started at the 10th hole, giving back two early birdies with bogeys at the par-four 16th and par-five 18th holes.

But the Englishman put his foot down on his inward nine, sending down five birdies and no bogeys for his 67.

World number 23 Garcia, meanwhile, found himself teeing off as the highest-ranked player in the field after the withdrawals of world number three Steve Stricker and number six Ian Poulter, due to a right shoulder and left knee injury respectively.

Spain's Garcia was looking to bounce back from a missed cut at last week's Verizon Heritage on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where after an opening 67 he collapsed to a second-round 77.

Garcia, though, did not get off to the best of starts at the 7,341-yard, par-72 TPC Louisiana, his one-over 73 featuring three birdies, a bogey and two double bogeys.

With Bohn setting the early pace with a seven-under-par 65, that has put the struggling Spanish star in a tie for 87th and on the back foot heading into the second round.

Bohn went to the 18th needing a birdie to give him a course-record 63 but instead bogeyed after finding the water with his second shot on the par-five closing hole, the only blemish on a round that featured seven birdies.

Bohn's two-stroke lead is over Owen, Australian John Senden, and trio of the front-runner's fellow Americans - 2006 winner Chris Couch, Jeff Overton and Jason Dufner.

Former world number one David Duval was three shots off the lead following his opening 68, as were Troy Merritt, Kevin Sutherland and Charles Howell III of the US and Korea's KJ Choi.

Sweden's Mathias Gronberg and former tournament winners Brad Faxon and Louisiana native David Toms were among those at three under while England's Justin Rose posted a 70.

Defending champion Jerry Kelly finished his opening round at one under following a 71, alongside a group including England's Brian Davis.

Davis was playing his first round since earning plaudits for calling a two-stroke penalty on himself during last Sunday night's play-off with Jim Furyk, a gesture that effectively ended his chances of victory.

Andres Romero of Argentina, the New Orleans champion in 2008, was among those on level par, as was two-time major winner John Daly and Sweden's Daniel Chopra and Richard S Johnson.

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