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McNeill leads fog-hit McGladrey Classic after birdie binge

George McNeill of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the 11th hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship PGA golf tournament
George McNeill of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the 11th hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship PGA golf tournament

(Reuters) - American George McNeill rode eight birdies, including a stretch of five in a row, to grab a one-shot lead late in a fog-affected incomplete first round of the McGladrey Classic on the Seaside layout at Sea Island, Georgia on Thursday.

McNeill was eight under par through 16 holes when darkness halted play following a morning fog delay, leaving him one clear of compatriots Briny Baird and Brian Gay, who both fired seven-under rounds of 63 in the morning wave.

Former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson was joined by Kevin Kisner, Kevin Chappell and Noh Seung-yul in the clubhouse with rounds of 65 for a share of fourth place along with Robert Garrigus who was five-under through 13 holes.

McNeill, who has never broken 63 on the PGA Tour, will have a chance to post a new low early on Friday when play resumes and put himself on track for a shot at a third career win.

Coming off a 2013 season where he failed to post a top-10 for the first time in his seven-year career, the 38-year-old Florida native blasted into contention with a birdie blitz.

Playing the back nine first, McNeill carded a birdie on the 11th and then added five straight from the 15th. Further birdies on the fourth and seventh holes sent him to the locker room after the horn with the lead.

Gay found his way in the house early with a 63 thanks to some massive made putts. The American claimed birdies on seven and eight with 31-foot bombs and saved par on the ninth from 25 feet.

The four-time winner then closed his round with another barrage, making birdies from 31 feet and 34 feet at the 17th and 18th holes, respectively.

"It was just a solid day, I played nice and hit the ball good and hit a lot of greens and made some long putts so it was a really solid day," Gay told reporters. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the week."

Baird, playing on a major medical exemption after returning from double shoulder surgery, made his move in spurts.

The 41-year-old made three consecutive birdies from the second before storming up the board late with another four birdies from the 14th in a flawless round.

Defending champion Tommy Gainey was two-under through 15 holes when play was suspended where he was joined by world number weight Matt Kuchar, the highest ranked player in the field.

(Reporting by Ben Everill in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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