American Willis leads first round of Transitions golf

CLEARWATER: American Garrett Willis, who is playing on a sponsor's exemption, fired a six-under 65 on Thursday to take the opening-round lead of the $5.4 million PGA Transitions Championship.

Defending champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and former winner Carl Pettersson are part of a group of six golfers who are tied for second. Jonathan Byrd, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk and Jeff Maggert also shot four-under 67. JB Holmes, Steve Elkington, Ross Fisher and Jeff Quinney are tied for eighth at three-under 68.

Willis learned just two weeks ago he would be given an exemption to play in the tournament. He seized the lead with five birdies on the back nine, including three in a row on Thursday. "Next thing you know, it just birdie after birdie," Willis said.

Goosen and Pettersson, of Sweden, are both past champions. Goosen got his title defence off to a great start with back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17 to go with two other birdies on the front nine. Maggert got into the field at the last second when Vijay Singh pulled out on Thursday. Fiji's Singh withdrew with a back problem.

Padraig Harrington shot a first-round 69, one day after visiting Washington and the White House where he attended a gala dinner hosted by US President Barack Obama and Ireland's Prime Minister, Brian Cowen. Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa got off to a rocky start by shooting a 12-over 83 and is in last place.