Leading the Texas Open by three strokes, Akshay Bhatia starts with a 63. No. 6 is Rory McIlroy.

San Antonio — Akshay Bhatia fired a 9-under 63 on Thursday, giving him a three-shot lead in the Valero Texas Open and a chance to play in the Masters. Winning the Texas Open is the last chance to qualify for Augusta National. Bhatia, 22, won the Barracuda Championship last summer, although it was hosted opposite the British Open and didn't count toward a Masters invitation.  

I don't care," Bhatia remarked of his lead. “I’m excited to sleep. The day was lengthy and hot. I'm simply trying to do what my mental coach and I have been talking about, not win the golf event today. But having a nice day is nice.” Brendon Todd birdied four of his last five holes for a 66 to join morning player Justin Lower. They're not Masters yet.  

Rory McIlroy had a good day after visiting swing instructor Butch Harmon in Las Vegas and spending two days at Augusta National before his final competition before the one major separating him from the career Grand Slam. Only three birdies came from his bogey-free round. At TPC San Antonio, he missed a 3-footer on the 14th and missed both par 5s on the back nine.  

“I think it's the first round I've had without a bogey in quite a while,” McIlroy said. Since my game has been erratic in recent months, I was pleased to play a respectable round of golf in tough conditions.  

Jordan Spieth had another thrilling performance. On the par-5 14th, he blasted his tee shot out of bounds and made double bogey, placing him at 4 over and risking missing his third straight cut since October 2020. Next, he holed No. 15 with a 7-iron. He saved a 73 by hitting another birdie from the bunker on the 17th.  

“I'm playing so much better than I've been scoring and it doesn't look like it,” Spieth said. It's hard to describe. I've played worse and had consecutive top 10s than my missed cuts. Quite strange. Maybe I got a couple wonderful breaks late that make the game not as hard as it's been feeling.  

At 68, Max Homa and Cognizant Classic winner Austin Eckroat were members. Second year touring for Bhatia. He played Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour events before booking his card, but he had played the Texas Open twice. This is my third visit. Few tour golf courses are my third time, Bhatia stated. “I played well. The day was good.”  

Only two of his nine birdies were outside 10 feet—both were 15 feet—and he concluded with a greenside bunker shot to tap-in range on the 18th.  

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