Gore makes the most of wet course at Neediest Kids Championship

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

Veteran is in lead early after his 63 at Avenel

Lift, clean and place. Those are beautiful words for professional golfers.

With that rule in effect in the opening round of the Neediest Kids Championship on Thursday, players on the Web.com Tour were hitting from perfect lies and firing darts at the saturated greens of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.

Veteran Jason Gore took advantage the most, shooting a 7-under-par 63. Gore, a former PGA Tour player who was in the final group at the 2005 U.S. Open, drained birdie putts on the final three holes of both nines to post his lowest score in five years.

Gore needed just 23 putts, best in the field, before hustling off the course following a quick post-round interview, anxious to get his wife and two children to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

"I just made everything I looked at, which is kind of nice because I've been hitting a bunch of lips the last few weeks," said Gore, 38. "I saw the lines, and I just happened to hit them. The greens are perfect."

Gore has a two-stroke lead on Alistair Presnell, 33; Michael Connell, 37; Will Wilcox, 26; and Josh Persons, 28 -- who was on hole No. ?17 when play was called for darkness. In a group of seven players at 4-under-par is Sam Saunders, the 25-year-old grandson of golf legend Arnold Palmer. Saunders had high praise for the course.

"I wish we'd play a course like this every week," Saunders said. "This tour, you might as well call it the Wedge dot-com tour because it's just driver-sand wedge every week. It's nice to play a real golf course that is big and I think really tests all aspects of the game."

At 7,139 yards, Avenel is long for a par 70. It played every yard of it Thursday as the drenched fairways required players to hit plenty of mid- and long irons into the greens.

"The balls were plugging off the tee," Presnell said. "You're getting no bounce or run out of them."

As the course dried out in the afternoon, scoring became more difficult. Of the top 12 finishers, all but two teed off in the morning. Players were nearly unanimous in their praise of Avenel. With sun in the forecast, the course should toughen up in Friday's second round.

"You have to drive it well. You have to hit smart shots. It's not just fire at every pin," Saunders said. "When you have a sand wedge in your hand on every par-4 hole, you can go at every pin. But when you're hitting 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-irons into par 4s or even more club, you have to actually start thinking about what you're doing out here, and quality ball-striking is rewarded."

No one was rewarded more than Gore, a seven-time winner on the Web.com Tour with one PGA victory. Watching the Ryder Cup last week, Gore said he was inspired by the passion shown by the players and believes he needs to play with more intensity.

"I can't believe I'm going to tell you this, but my goal is to make the team," Gore said. "My goal is not to just get my tour card or just get back on tour, I want to make that team. You've got to have some passion and go for it."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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