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One of the biggest and brightest young stars in the game came to play in the Lone Star State. Akshay Bhatia was brilliant around TPC San Antonio on Thursday as he carded nine birdies and no bogeys to shoot a 9-under 63 and open up a three-stroke lead on the field.

Bhatia began his day on the more difficult front side, but it didn't seem to matter. Connecting on three birdies across his first four holes, the wiry left-hander was off and running. He added one more at the turn and went into the inward half where more of the same was in store.

Tap-in birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 sandwiched a long distance connection on the 15th. Bhatia went to the par-5 18th with a chance to tie the lowest round of his career, and he would do just that as one last tap-in birdie resulted in a back-nine 31 and a bogey-free 63.

Bhatia may have rolled in the most birdies on the day, but he was not the only man to go bogey-free. Rory McIlroy is within arm's reach after 18 holes thanks to a bogey-free 69.

"Doesn't matter to me," Bhatia said, referring to his lead. "I'm excited to go and sleep, it's been a long day, it's been very hot. I'm just trying to do the things that my mental coach and I have been talking about and I'm not trying to win the golf tournament today, but it's just nice having a nice day today."

Battling inconsistencies and the big number in the first three months of his season, McIlroy was steady in Round 1. Seeking the help of swing coach Butch Harmon, the four-time major champion got the big left miss out of his system, at least for one day, and helped him to keep his ball in between the bumpers.

There were a couple missed opportunities sprinkled in there -- namely the par-5 14th and par-5 18th -- but it was a clear step down the right path for a player who was searching for direction.

"The miss I was struggling with the last few weeks has been a left miss with the irons, and if anything, most of my misses today were to the right, so it was actually a pretty good thing," said McIlroy. "I'd much rather miss it to the right at the minute than miss it to the left. Yeah, I thought I played pretty well, hit some nice shots, played pretty consistently. I think it's the first round I've had without a bogey in quite a while. My game over the last couple months has been quite volatile, so to go out there and play a solid round of golf in pretty tricky conditions, pretty happy with it."

The leader

1. Akshay Bhatia (-9)

There is still a long way to go in this tournament, but with one spot remaining in the Masters field, it is Bhatia who has the inside track to earn the final invitation into the first major championship of the season. The one-time PGA Tour winner was flawless Thursday with nine birdies against zero dropped shots to open up a three-stroke lead on the field. Coming off back-to-back quality outings at the Valspar Championship and the Houston Open, Bhatia has rolled this into more of the same in San Antonio. If he is able to continue to do this across the next three days, Bhatia will be packing his bags for Augusta where long left handers like himself have thrived.

Other contenders

T2. Justin Lower, Brendon Todd (-6)
T4. Max Homa, Denny McCarthy, Austin Eckroat, Tyson Alexander (-4)
T8. Rory McIlroy, Ben Griffin, Hayden Springer, Adam Svensson Russell Henley, Matti Schmid, Garrick Higgo, Jorge Campillo (-3)

Homa fired one of the rounds of the day thanks to three birdies in his final four holes. Entering this week with a couple question marks surrounding his game (mainly the driver), Homa insisted playing through them rather than taking the week off to practice at home. After last year's Open, the six-time PGA Tour winner decided that he would be playing the week before each of the four major championships in lieu of taking the week off like usual. With only one major top 10 (last year's Open) in 17 starts, Homa needed to change something, and a good start in San Antonio could be a sign of things to come in Augusta.

"I think I when I'm at home [preparing for a major championship] I try to be a perfectionist, and I kind of hope that carries into the next week," said Homa. "I think this for myself might work better where I'm learning kind of more about my golf game and what shots feel good and what don't and leaning into that instead of trying to make them all exactly right."

Spieth be with you

Jordan Spieth's first few months of the PGA Tour season have been pretty odd, to say the least (shocker). With everything from a disqualification to a podium finish on his résumé, Spieth arrived in Texas hoping to find a string of consistency. That didn't happen in Round 1.

The 2021 champion offset five bogeys and a double bogey with four birdies and a hole-in-one for a ho-hum 1-over 73. Spieth arrived at the par-3 16th 4 over on his round and walked off the green at 2 over thanks to his fourth career ace on the PGA Tour. He parlayed this momentum into another birdie on the short par-4 17th to end his rollercoaster day on a high note.

"I had to take some off of a 7-iron, and so I lined up to hit like a 185 shot and hit a little fade with the wind that kind of was able to ride the slope then," said Spieth. "I hit it and I picked up the tee because I did what I wanted to do. And then as it landed and started to -- everyone started to stand up, it was the people right in line with it, so I thought maybe there's a chance, and then it went in."

2024 Texas Open updated odds, picks

Odds via Sportsline consensus

  • Akshay Bhatia: 3-1
  • Rory McIlroy: 7-1
  • Brendon Todd: 10-1
  • Max Homa: 11-1
  • Corey Conners: 19-1
  • Russell Henley: 22-1
  • Austin Eckroat: 25-1
  • CollinMorikawa: 25-1
  • Denny McCarthy: 25-1

With winds expected to continue, I think there are a bunch of guys at or around even par still right in the thick of it. The most intriguing option has to be Ludvig Åberg at 40-1. Among the betting favorites entering the week, the young Swede was among the leaders in the field in strokes gained ball striking Thursday but got nothing out of his short game en route to an even-par 72. The ball striking should remain the next three days and if the putter gets going, watch out.