Power grabs Rex lead with course-record 61

Growing up in Ireland, Seamus Power once played junior golf with Rory McIlroy and hopes to one day do the same on the PGA Tour.

For now, Power wouldn’t mind following the lead of someone like, say, Chesson Hadley.

Power bolted into the lead Thursday at the Rex Hospital Open, setting a new course record with a 10-under-par 61 at TPC Wakefield Plantation. Late in the opening round, he held a two-shot lead over two-time Rex champion Kyle Thompson, who opened with an 8-under 63, and was three shots ahead of tour rookie Dominic Bozzelli.

Power, who lives in Huntersville, played his way onto the Tour after a few successful years on the eGolf Tour, a mini-tour based in the Carolinas. Hadley, a Raleigh native and former Georgia Tech All-American, once was on the eGolf Tour before qualifying for the Tour and winning the Rex Hospital Open in 2013.

Hadley then took the next step – to the PGA Tour. He won the Puerto Rico Open and was named the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year in 2014.

“You’d like to be the guy who comes out of school … and goes straight to the PGA Tour but that’s not realistic for most guys,” said Power, a former East Tennessee State golfer. “That’s very rare. That’s Jordan Spieth, Rory.

“For the most part you’re going to have to figure it out and learn how to play professional golf on the mini-tours,, then go to the PGA Tour. You have to keep working, wait for your opportunity and take it when it comes.”

Power, 28, is coming off his best finish on the Tour, tying for 10th in the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greer, S.C. Some final round, too. A hole-in-one at the 17th hole – with a 7-iron from 189 yards – won him a new BMW X4 sedan.

“I feel a little more confident, feel I can free-wheel a little more,” Power said.

Power said he had an average practice round at Wakefield, then went out Thursday and recorded an eagle and eight birdies in a bogey-free round. He hit 17 greens in regulation and had 26 putts, one-putting 10 times.

Starting the day at the 10th hole, he promptly holed a 35-footer for birdie. The par-5 ninth hole was his last of the day, and he put his 3-wood second shot four feet from the pin for an eagle-3 to break the course record of 62 set by Rob Bradley in 2003 and equaled by Scott Brown (2010) and Andrew Putnam (2013).

Jimmy Green holds the tournament record with a 60 carded in 1998 at Raleigh Country Club.

Power was a three-time Irish Youths champion and played on Irish national teams with McIlroy and Shane Lowry. He said he was a part of the “pipeline” of Irish golfers to East Tennessee State, where he earned an accounting degree in 2010.

Bozzelli, 24, played his college golf at Auburn and has had his patience tested – and passport stamped – a lot this year. With conditional status on the Tour, he went to the early events in South America as an alternate into tournament fields, only to be left out of all but one.

At one point, Bozzelli had to fly back to Atlanta to obtain a visa to travel to Brazil. He flew back for the Brasil Champions, where he was the first alternate, but no one withdrew from the field.

“I was just stuck in South America, killing time,” he said. “The phone didn’t even work down there.”

Bozzelli did return to get a start in the BMW Charity Pro-Am but missed the cut. He then made it through local qualifying for the U.S. Open, taking co-medalist honors in 45-degree weather in Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Next stop: Greensboro. After an 11-hour drive, Bozzelli went through Monday qualifying for the Rex at Grandover Resort. He didn’t qualify but learned Tuesday he was in the Rex as an alternate and opened with a 64.

But everybody was chasing Power on Thursday. On this day, he played like McIlroy.

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