Bob Estes spent two days this week trying out new putters, looking for one that just felt right.
Estes birdied six straight holes - his longest streak of the season and one shy of his career best - in a 9-under 64 that left him tied for the lead with Tommy Armour III on Thursday in the opening round of the Ginn sur Mer Classic at a soggy Tesoro Club.
"The game is still always a struggle,'' said Estes, who also shot a 64 last week. "So, even if I'm making six birdies in a row, or like when I was making seven birdies in a row in Memphis a couple years ago, people are like, 'Man, you must have been in the zone.' I'm still pretty relaxed, but I'm still working really hard."
Play was suspended at 6:39 p.m. because of darkness, keeping 22 players from finishing, but Armour decided to complete the 18th. He made a 10-footer for a a birdie-birdie-birdie finish, and was 9 under after one round for the first time.
Estes was flawless - nine birdies, no bogeys - and only missed one green, capping his day with a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-4 ninth hole.
Armour wasn't half-bad, either, with a 10-birdie, one-bogey day.
"When you make 10 birdies, it was all good,'' Armour said. "I hit it close a few times, made some putts, did everything.''
Craig Kanada and Daniel Chopra were three shots off the pace at 6-under 67, while another group including Frank Lickliter II and Steve Flesch - a two-time winner this year - finished another shot back.
Unlike many players in the field who are chasing a top-125 spot on the money list and full playing privileges for 2008, Flesch obviously isn't worried about his card.
He's here to secure a trip to the Masters, a perk that comes to those finishing in the top 30 in earnings.
"It's amazing how a couple weeks can change your whole year out here,'' said Flesch, who has won two of his previous seven starts.
Estes started on the back nine and made the turn at 2 under, after birdies on both of the par 5s and nothing but pars on the remainder of his card.
But his second nine was one to savor.
He made birdies at Nos. 1-6, and had a chance for seven straight when his approach stopped about 20 feet from the cup at the par-5 seventh. Estes settled for par there, then put an emphatic end to the round with his long birdie at the ninth.
"It's only Thursday,'' Estes said. "That's the deal.''
Kanada has three children, so he already planned to play in the season finale at Disney next week. He tied for 10th at the Sony Open in January, and has made only three cuts in his last 10 starts - watching his spot on the money list slip from 94th to 123rd.
"I have to admit, I've been looking and trying to figure things out about how much it's going to take,'' Kanada said. ``It probably hasn't helped me, but at the same time, when you're out there inside the ropes it's still just the game of golf.''
Let's make the math real simple: First prize here this week is $810,000. That'd take care of everything.
"I've been doing this for long enough where I know that being inside of 125 would be a really good thing,'' Kanada said.
Light rain started 10 minutes before play began, and the gray skies probably matched John Daly's mood.
With about 50 fans following him at 7:30 a.m., the ever-popular Daly was first off the tee. First to make double bogey, too, after his drive on the par-4 opening hole found a bunker and he three-putted from 60 feet.
He finished at 2-over 75, and will need to rally if he's to make a cut for only the ninth time in 24 starts.
Divots: Will McKenzie withdrew after shooting a 79. ... Eric Axley (77) was the day's big winner: His ace at the 218-yard 17th hole earned him a Chrysler Sebring convertible. "That's my 17th hole-in-one and the first time I've won anything for any of them,'' said Axley, who hit 4-iron. ... Officials moved tees forward because of soggy conditions and players were allowed to lift, clean and place shots. "The fairways are just chewed. Footprints from the deer walking across the fairways last night are still there,'' Lickliter said. ... Kevin Na (68) started with an eagle, holing out from 100 yards. He then made a triple bogey at the 12th. ... Kevin Stadler, who started the week 125th on the money list, shot an 83.