(Reuters) - Matt Every, on the mend after a case of the driving yips so bad he said it would have driven many to quit, made a perfect start on his way to the first-round lead at the Wyndham Championship on Thursday.
Every holed out from 105 yards for eagle at the first hole and added seven birdies for a career-low, nine-under-par 61 in ideal morning conditions at Sedgefield Country Club.
“The last couple years a lot of people would have quit the game in my position with what has kind of crept into my game,” the American said after earning a one-shot advantage over Swede Henrik Stenson.
Every won the Arnold Palmer Invitational back-to-back in 2015 and 2016 before his driving disintegrated, making it impossible to compete with the game’s best.
As his confidence waned he started flinching, instead of committing to his shot.
“I would just stop (during the swing) ... My body just stopped and (the ball) would go either straight right or way left,” he explained.
Every finally solved his swing problems with the help of new coach Scott Hamilton and believes he is ready to compete at the highest level again, though it hurt him not to be eligible for last week’s PGA Championship.
“I watched the PGA at home. That sucked,” he said. “I don’t go to bed at night saying there are 144 guys better than me playing.
“I have a high regard for my talent ... So I couldn’t let myself quit.”
With his driving back on track, Every, 33, is brimming with confidence.
“I‘m driving it way better, so mentally I‘m in a better spot over the ball. I’ve gained a lot of distance with the driver and I‘m hitting it straight,” he said. “I’m very excited with where my game is at.”
Stenson, who played in the afternoon, almost caught Every, notching eight birdies with a hot putter.
The world number nine is the highest-ranked player in the field, with most big names having a week off between the PGA and the start of the tour’s FedExCup playoffs next week.
“When I swing well I‘m a strong iron player, mid-irons, and you have a lot of six-irons to nine-irons (here),” said Stenson, who is not carrying a driver this week on the short par-70 layout.
Seven players were tied for third on seven-under including 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson and Australians Cameron Smith and Tim Wilkinson.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine