Matt Wallace takes 1-shot lead at Byron Nelson, with defending champ Jason Day 3 back

McKINNEY, Texas — Matt Wallace was relegated to watching the Masters amid a self-described “terrible” season when he found himself pondering what makes some of the best golfers in the world so good.

Asked if Scottie Scheffler was among the players he was watching, Wallace stumbled over his words just a bit.

“Well, him, but, I mean, so good that it’s difficult to take a lot from him because he’s playing unbelievable golf,” Wallace said. “It’s not as realistic for everyone else out there.”

Well, maybe Wallace can take advantage of the world No. 1 sitting out his hometown tournament awaiting the birth of his first child.

The one-time PGA Tour winner shot an 8-under 63 for a one-shot lead over seven players in the first round of the CJ Cup Byron Nelson on Thursday.

Taiga Semikawa, a 23-year-old from Japan playing on a sponsor exemption, settled for 64 after a three-putt par on the par-5 18th just before a rain-delayed round with preferred lies was suspended by darkness with nine players on the course.

Taylor Pendrith, Alex Noren, Chesson Hadley, Jake Knapp, Davis Riley and Kelly Kraft also were at 7 under at TPC Craig Ranch, just north of Scheffler’s hometown of Dallas.

Defending champion Jason Day was in a large group trailing by three after he and Jordan Spieth, the biggest local favorite with Scheffler absent, struggled down the stretch playing in the same threesome. Spieth was 3 under.

Brad Hopfinger, a 35-year-old making his PGA Tour debut, was two shots behind Wallace along with Ben Kohles, Alex Smalley and Hayden Buckley.

Wallace, who has missed the cut five times and doesn’t have a top-10 finish in 11 tournaments this year, birdied five of the first six holes and capped his bogey-free, career-low round with a tap-in birdie on the 18th.

The 34-year-old Englishman has found himself taking mental notes about the likes of young Swede Ludvig Aberg, who played at Texas Tech but is among 27 of the top 30 players skipping the Nelson with a $20 million signature event, the Wells Fargo Championship, and the PGA Championship coming the next two weeks.

“What I’m seeing from a lot of them, especially the younger guys, younger than me — I’m not too old, but younger than me — they’re so focused in their shot and not worrying about the outcome or what’s out there,” said Wallace, who won in the Dominican Republic a little more than a year ago.

Day and Spieth both stumbled with bogeys on the par-5 fifth hole, their 14th of the day. Day had two birdies and a bogey over the final four holes, including the par-5 ninth. Spieth could only par the finishing hole and was 1 over on the par 5s.

“It’s a very gettable golf course,” Spieth said. “I just played the easy holes poorly. That was kind of the story of the day.”

Spieth is still seeking his first victory in his 12th appearance at event in which he debuted by contending as a 16-year-old amateur in 2010. Day got his first PGA Tour win when Spieth was making those headlines, then ended a five-year victory drought last year.

The 30-year-old Spieth missed last year’s Nelson because of a wrist injury. He was the runner-up in 2022.

Rain delayed the start by an hour and remains in the forecast through the weekend. If the rain stays away, players could have minimal wind on a soft course that has surrendered among the most birdies on tour in its four years as the home of the Nelson.

“I’m not out of it, but certainly you want to stay within two or three of the lead as you get through the first couple rounds,” Spieth said. “Doesn’t look like we’re going to get a ton of wind or anything, so I am going to have to really make it up, because there will be a lot of guys shooting low scores.”

Raul Pereda aced the 236-yard seventh hole and shot 68, as did Kris Kim in the tour debut of the 16-year-old from England whose South Korean-born mom played on the LPGA Tour in the 1990s.

Playing on a sponsor exemption in the first year of the Nelson carrying the name of the South Korean company CJ Group, Kim chipped in for eagle at No. 9 to finish an up-and-down round that included five birdies and four bogeys.

“First couple holes the nerves were definitely there, but as we got on, it was just playing golf,” said Kim, who went undefeated in the Junior Ryder Cup last year and is the first amateur sponsored by CJ Group.


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