Will MacKenzie Will MacKenzie surges to first round lead at PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship

For a player who was burnt out on golf at 14, Will MacKenzie certainly sounded like a man who enjoyed himself Thursday during first-round play of the Wyndham Championship.

MacKenzie, who gave up tournament golf from age 14 until he turned 25, carded an 8-under-par 64 at Forest Oaks Country Club to take a one-stroke lead in the final PGA Tour event of the regular season. The 32-year-old native of Greenville, N.C., is one shot ahead of Steve Marino, Brian Davis, Lucas Glover and Jeff Overton.

MacKenzie did play a little high school golf as a freshman and a sophomore, but said he wasn't real competitive. He then went cold turkey - with the possible exception of hitting balls a few times on the practice range - until he was almost 25 years old.

After playing competitively in several junior tournaments, MacKenzie recalled that he was "burned out" and "real angry."

"…I played a bunch of tournaments that summer and I remember leaving there … I had to go back to school in three days," MacKenzie told reporters. "I was like, ‘This is not that fun,' and I had a lot of other opportunities in eastern North Carolina: to go to the beach and go to the river, water ski, surf and do all those things.

"I just sort of slowly went away from it."

After that, MacKenzie's life took a random path. He kayaked, rock climbed, surfed, lived briefly in Costa Rica and mainly just tried to find outdoor jobs to get by, including working as what he called "a wilderness emergency medical technician."

What finally brought MacKenzie back to golf was watching Payne Stewart win the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

"It just really inspired me," MacKenzie said. "Home state, Pinehurst No. 2, I love it - just adore the place. Payne Stewart (was) sort of a childhood idol."

After seeing the late Stewart's competitive flare, MacKenzie said he was inspired to pick up the clubs again.

"I hit some balls and I was like, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. Maybe I want to play again,'" MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie then called some of the friends he had played against when he was 14 who were trying to make it in professional golf. He asked them what they were doing and soon after started playing mini-tour events.

"I just got all my ducks in a row and started grinding, and I've been grinding ever since, or having fun," MacKenzie said. "This game is so fun."

Especially when he plays like he did Thursday. After a bogey at No. 1, MacKenzie reeled off nine birdies over his next 15 holes, finishing two shots off the tournament record score of 62 shot by Charles Warren in the 2005 event.

With favorable playing conditions that allowed the majority of the field to finish in red numbers on the par-72 layout, Glover said everyone knows they'll have to go low again Friday to remain in contention.

"You know you've got to do it," Glover told reporters. "Do the same things you did today: Put the ball in the fairway and take advantage of when you get the short clubs in on the par 5s."

August 17, 2007

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