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(Reuters) - Justin Rose hit the ground running in the PGA Tour's return from a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak with a bogey-free round that left him with an early one-shot lead at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday.
The former U.S. Open champion, who missed the cut in his last two starts before the PGA Tour halted action in mid-March, carded a seven-under-par 63 in pristine scoring conditions early at Colonial Country Club.
"I'm not sure I'm going to get the golf course easier than that this week, so I could shoot 66 on a Saturday or Sunday in a bit more of a breeze playing the back end of the field and it's actually a better round of golf than today," said Rose.
World number 14 Rose, who started the day on the back nine in the company of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, made a rousing start with birdies on four of his opening seven holes.
Despite no fans on the course to applaud his efforts, Britain's Rose acknowledged an imaginary gallery at his first hole after he chipped in his third shot for birdie.
"I was kind of having a little fun with it, thanks, tipping the cap to the silence," said Rose.
"But to be fair, Dustin Johnson's caddie, his brother, he kind of gave me a little round of applause there. So the guys were having a bit of fun with the unique environment that we were dealing with."
Rose went on to make three consecutive birdies after the turn, including at the par-four third hole where his approach shot from 114 yards settled 14 feet from the cup.
The Englishman's opening score marks the third time since 2010 that he has shot a first-round 63. On the previous two occasions - at the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open and 2011 BMW Championship - he walked away a winner.
"The good thing is I feel like I didn't max everything out today," said Rose. "Yes, my short game was good, my putting was good, but I feel like there's another level there or another gear or two with the long game."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)