Bang, bang, bang: Talor Gooch is knocking on the door again in the Houston Open

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Talor Gooch keeps knocking on the door.

It might open this week in Houston.

Looking right at home at Memorial Park Golf Course, Gooch again put himself in position to win his first PGA Tour title with a 5-under-par 65 in Thursday’s storm-delayed first round of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open.

Once a storm front passed that delayed tee times by 2 hours, 30 minutes – one inch of rain fell as lightning flashed and thunder boomed and lift, clean and place was allowed the rest of the day – Gooch continued his impressive 2021-22 season with seven birdies and two bogeys.

Gooch, who holds a share of the course record at Memorial (a 63 in last year’s final round), is making his fifth start of the new season and has posted finishes of T-4, T-11, T-5, and T-11. He’s also finished fourth and in a tie for fourth in his last two starts in the Houston Open.

“Anytime you’re playing well you try to grab on to that momentum, and it can be tough to take it week to week in golf because there’s such a pause between tournament round and the next week’s tournament starting,” said Gooch, 29, who is making his 103rd start on the PGA Tour. “So you just try to do everything you can to keep doing the same things. I’ve been able to keep doing that through the stretch, so hopefully we can continue it for the rest of this week.”

Among the early finishers, Gooch sits atop the leaderboard with Marc Leishman and 2017 Houston Open winner Russell Henley. A stroke back was Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA champion who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption. Another stroke back at 67 was Keith Mitchell.

“Anyone would take 65 any day of the week on the PGA Tour. It was a good day. Always great to start the week off with a low one, feel like you get a little bit ahead of the ballgame,” Gooch said.

He feels he’s ahead of the ballgame on the public course.

“It’s one of my favorite places,” he said. “I grew up on a city golf course back where I’m from. I wasn’t a country club kid, so it’s nice kind of feeling like I’m getting back to my roots. Obviously, this one’s a little bit nicer than what I grew up on, a little bit more challenging, but it’s just nice rolling up and feeling like this is kind of similar to what I grew up playing.”

Dufner, whose most recent of five PGA Tour titles came in the 2017 Memorial, said it was no secret he hasn’t played very well the last three years, his game falling so much he lost full status for this season. Saying he was grateful for the sponsor’s exemption, Dufner was first off alongside Henley and did his best to make the exemption count.

“I was pretty happy for the most part with everything I did, but a couple key parts kind of in the middle of the round a couple times helped kind of glue that round together and maybe turned a 70, 69, 68 into a 66,” he said. “So I’ll take those two shots or three shots with those saves and look to improve on my ball‑striking.”

Leishman, who is looking for his sixth PGA Tour title and first since the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open (he did team with Cameron Smith to win the 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event), bogeyed his last hole. He’s been puzzled about his results for some time now – playing well but not posting scores – and has worked hard to turn things around.

“It can be a crazy game; it can get you down and you can play really well and not have a good score and play mediocre golf and have a really good score,” he said. “You have to try and not let that get to you. I think a fresh season, a new start was pretty good for me. Got me to knuckle down and just really focus and I’ve been playing some good golf.”