McKINNEY, Texas — S.Y. Noh thought he didn’t have quite enough distance with his 3-wood as he pondered going for the green in two on the par-5 18th hole — setting up a potential eagle and a 59 in the first round of the AT&T Byron Nelson.
The South Korean didn’t seem to mind settling for tying the course record.
Noh made three putts of at least 25 feet on the back nine for an 11-under 60 and a three-shot lead after the first round of the Nelson on Thursday.
Two-time defending champion K.H. Lee, also of South Korea, shot 71, leaving him 11 shots back in his bid to become the first to three-peat on the PGA Tour since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009 to ’11.
Lee shot in the 60s for all eight rounds of the first two years of the Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch, about 30 miles north of Dallas.
Adam Scott, who tied for fifth last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, was three shots back at 63 along with Marty Dou of China after the Australian’s best opening round since 2014.
Headliner and hometown favorite Scottie Scheffler, at No. 2 the highest-ranked among four top-25 players in the field, shot 64 along with Australian Jason Day. They were in a group that included Texan Ryan Palmer, Scott Piercy, Luke List and Richy Werenski.
Noh, whose last top-10 finish on tour came before a two-year military commitment in 2017, had to play part of his back nine without a driver when the head cracked on his tee shot on 12.
The 31-year-old journeyman with one career PGA Tour victory had a replacement by the time he reached the 547-yard 18th, and ended up 257 yards from the hole with a blind shot from the right side of the fairway.
Noh laid up short of the water in front of the green, hit his approach to 9 feet and made the putt to tie Sebastian Munoz’s record from a year ago at Craig Ranch.
“So my 3-wood is going off the ground like 265, but it’s like just under 260 without the wind,” Noh said. “It’s like borderline.”
Noh decided against marring an otherwise great round with a mistake.
“Everything going good,” said Noh, who made an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth. “I’m just trying to make birdie, just forget about the eagle 59.”
Munoz — now with LIV Golf — finished at 12 under in his opening round last year, but the course is a par 71 now after the 12th hole was converted from a 547-yard par-5 to a 493-yard par-4.
Noh, whose previous career low was 62 at the 2012 Deutsche Bank Championship, kept alive his shot at 59 by making a 27-foot par putt on 16 and a 34-footer for birdie on the par-3 stadium hole at No. 17. He drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-4 11th.
After noticing a crack in the driver head following an errant tee shot on 12, Noh was told there wasn’t enough damage to allow for a replacement.
Noh used the club again on 13, and after two more errant shots, including a provisional, a rules official gave him the OK for a replacement. He put a new driver head on the shaft of the club at 16.
Scott played the back nine first and chipped in for birdie on No. 12 while matching Noh’s opening 30. His momentum stalled with his only bogey on the par-4 sixth hole before Scott birdied his final two holes.
“The game was feeling really good there last week, and getting a result is always good for the confidence, too,” said Scott, who finished 11 under at Quail Hollow. “Coming here on a course that’s going to throw a lot of birdies out there, getting in that attack mindset was key.”
Scheffler, who struggled with putting before taking three weeks off, made a 31-footer for birdie on his first hole and chipped in over a bunker for eagle to get to 6 under through six holes.
The former Texas Longhorn and 2022 Masters champion missed five putts inside 10 feet in a stretch of seven holes to drop to 3 under before a strong finish capped by a 15-foot eagle putt on 18.
Scheffler has the spotlight to himself in his hometown tournament after Jordan Spieth withdrew because of a wrist injury. Neither Dallas-raised player has won the Nelson.