Alex Prugh is playing with the Web.com Tour’s version of house money these days. And doing it well.
Prugh, a 28-year-old who lives in Las Vegas, fired an 8-under-par 63 on Thursday to take a two-shot lead over Mike Lavery after the first round of the Air Capital Classic at Crestview Country Club.
Web.com money leader Michael Putnam began his quest for an unprecedented third consecutive tour victory with a 73 on Crestview’s 6,959-yard North course. But Prugh had no struggles, reeling off a bogey-free round that ended with a 3-foot eagle putt on the 520-yard 18th.
“I’ve put myself in a good position to get more relaxed and maybe even find a couple more fairways,” said Prugh, who added six birdies in his season-low round. “Once you find the fairways, the course is in such great condition that it’s easy to get it close.”
Prugh, who played on the PGA Tour in 2010 and 2011, matched 2012 Air Capital Classic champion Casey Wittenberg’s opening-round score. It continued a recent upward trend for the golfer who last won four years ago in a Web.com event in New Zealand.
Prugh was 195th on the money list at the start of the BMW Charity Pro-Am on May 16. A top-25 finish there earned him a spot in the Mexico Championship, where he tied for second, two shots behind Putnam. That advanced Prugh to the Mid-Atlantic Championship, where he tied for sixth and vaulted to No. 24 in season earnings heading to Wichita.
“I definitely had to get my act together,” said Prugh, who missed the cut in five of his first six tour events this year. “Maybe it was a little bit of, ‘Come on, get yourself together and do something with yourself if you want to keep playing on this tour.’
“You want to be on the bigger tour,” he added, “but it’s kind of refocused me and given me a better goal.”
Prugh swiped the lead from Lavery, whose bogey-free 65 was his low round of the season. Lavery, a 32-year-old Californian, topped the morning wave of golfers with former Wichita State golfer Dustin Garza, seven-time tour winner Jason Gore and tour veteran Eric Axley on his heels after posting 66s.
Lavery, whose 2012 season was cut short by a wrist injury, credited his pre-tournament work in Crestview’s thick rough for his score.
“You get a different lie every time,” Lavery said. “We really practiced hard on it Monday and Tuesday, and it paid off. Every time I hit it in there, I hit a pretty good shot out and got up and down.”
Lavery also came to Crestview on an upswing, posting his best finish of the season two weeks ago in Maryland. But others who have played well recently left themselves with a challenge to make the cut, most notably Putnam.
Putnam, who posted two-shot victories in Mexico and Maryland, started Thursday’s round with two bogeys and a double bogey. No. 2 in tour scoring average this season at 69.21, Putnam climbed back to 1 over before adding another bogey to his scorecard.
“I just need to get sharp again,” Putnam said. “I had three three-putts today and fluffed two chips out of this rough. This is a U.S. Open-style rough we have this week. We don’t normally have that type of rough here.”
The rough played a factor in bringing Kyle Reifers off the top of the leaderboard. Reifers briefly held the lead at 7 under, but bogeyed three of his last four holes to join six others at 4-under 67.
The day was definitely much better for those who stayed in the fairway. On Prugh’s final hole, he felt like he slightly pulled a 6-iron shot in the fairway from 195 yards. But it bounced on the green and settled near the hole for his easy eagle attempt.
“I kind of figured out early there wasn’t enough wind to affect the ball a lot,” Prugh said. “I was somewhat able to get my ball off the tee and got the putter hot.”
Prugh will get an early look at Crestview in Friday’s second round. He is in the first group off No. 10 at 6:55 a.m. The 156-player field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after 36 holes.