KNOXVILLE (Web.com/WBIR) – Matt Fast celebrated the 25th anniversary of the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot with three consecutive birdies to finish his round.
The former Mississippi State Bulldog fired a bogey-free 65 Thursday morning at Fox Den Country Club and is joined at the top of the leaderboard by Martin Piller.
Local favorite Brandon Bunn, Cory Whitsett, Ryan Spears, Sung Joon Park and Monday qualifier Brandon Brown posted five-under 66.
Bunn is a Farragut High School graduate.
Ten players are two-strokes back including two-time News Sentinel Open champion Hunter Haas.
Fast hasn't been playing well this year so this round may come as a surprise to many but not him. The Jackson, Mississippi resident found something during the week of the Stonebrae Classic that has improved his short iron play. Fast missed the cut there but the swing thought has carried over to this week. The 27-year-old pro hit 16 of 18 greens on Thursday which resulted in his lowest first-round score this season. Fast he can continue to hit the ball like that the rest of the week. "I'm playing good," he said. "You're just trying to put 72 good holes together."
If Fast can perform well the rest of the week it could go a long way to saving his season.
The Louisiana native currently sits outside the top 75 on the money list and has had to change his goals from trying to finish top-25 at the end of the Web.com Tour Regular Season to finishing high enough to qualify for the Finals.
"You want to get your TOUR card," he said. "Now we just need to get top-75 and start playing good going into the playoffs."
Another player trying to earn enough money to be eligible for the Finals is Piller.
The Dallas, Texas resident took a positive step in that direction with a 65 of his own in which he played the last 12 holes in six-under par.
Piller has put in a lot of time on the golf course and is very satisfied with the result of that effort.
"It feels really good to play well," he said. "It took a while for me to realize that I need to play smart and take advantage of my opportunities"
Piller is in his fifth year as a professional and during that time has really improved his mental approach.
He has figured out that there is a time to be aggressive and a time to play the percentages.
The 28-year-old pro is confident that this stretegy is the way to sustain his current on-course success.
"It feels good to keep it going," he said. "If I play smart and I execute, I should play really well."