Turnesa shoots into Viking Classic lead with accurate putter

MADISON, Miss. -- Marc Turnesa was shocked to see a PGA Tour rookie's name atop the Viking Classic leaderboard Thursday -- especially his own.

"To be honest with you, I'm surprised I shot 7 under," Turnesa said. "I didn't really feel like I was hitting it great and I didn't hit it great. But putting is a great equalizer. If you can make putts you can get away with a lot of things."

The 30-year-old rookie with a celebrated family history on the PGA Tour used a 22-putt round for a 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay at the Annandale Golf Club. In a field dotted with big names needing a little boost after falling on hard times, Turnesa rolled in eight birdies and took advantage of ideal morning conditions.

"I think the 22 putts shows that I putted well, but it shows I didn't hit a lot of greens," the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., resident said. "A couple of putts in from the fringe and that number looks pretty great."

An eclectic group of players are chasing Turnesa and Gay. Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, who hasn't won on tour since 1998, Jay Williamson, Dicky Pride, Nathan Green, Brad Adamonis and Andrew Buckle shot 67s, and 14 others had 68s.

Though Janzen and Gay have won before, most of the players atop the leaderboard are looking for a breakthrough. Take Williamson as an example. He turned pro in 1990 with irregular success. At 41, he's had a pair of near misses in the last two years and feels he's ready.

"I've been out here long enough, I've made enough cuts, it's time for me to get to that next level somehow," Williamson said.

And for Pride, a win would mean no more shifting back and forth between the PGA and Nationwide tours.

"It's just brutal," Pride said. "The theory on it is you want to stay on the Nationwide and get fully exempt while you're out there. But when you play for only 10 percent of what you normally play for, the reality comes down to I'll make a lot more money out here and this is my job."

Janzen has been struggling with his game for years, but has played well lately and feels he could be returning to championship form. He joined the leaders after overcoming an early bogey on No. 2, making four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16 to take an early clubhouse lead.

"I've just been trying to forge ahead," Janzen said. "That's really all I've been trying to do over the past couple of years basically. Today I made a few putts and that really made a difference.

"Once you make a couple it feels like you're going to make the rest."

Turnesa had a similar feeling Thursday. He had 12 one-putts and rolled another in from the fringe. He finished his round with three straight birdies and hopes he can parlay his fast start into another tour victory for the Turnesa family.

His grandfather, Mike, was one of seven Turnesa brothers who played the PGA Tour during the mid-20th century. Mike Turnesa won six PGA Tour events and finished second to Ben Hogan in the 1948 PGA Championship. Great uncle Joe was a 15-time tour winner and uncle Willie was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion.

Turnesa just wants a piece of the family action. And if he doesn't win, he'll show up at each of the six remaining tournaments this year to continue the chase of his exemption. He needs to move up 44 spots on the money list to play next year.

"I'm playing all of them," Turnesa said. "I really don't think I've given myself much of a choice. Unless I win this week, then I'll probably take one of them off. The position I'm in, I need to get up there on the money list."