By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LA QUINTA, California (Reuters) - Four days after winning his maiden PGA Tour title, American rookie Russell Henley made light of a fatigued start to the week as he surged into contention at the Humana Challenge on Thursday.
The fresh faced 23-year-old fired an eight-under-par 64 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, ending an ideal day for scoring just one stroke behind his pace-setting compatriots Jason Kokrak, Roberto Castro and James Hahn.
"It was a perfect day," he told reporters after mixing seven birdies with an eagle and a lone bogey. "The weather is perfect, the greens were true so it's just trying to stay patient and let the birdies come to me. And I made some good putts.
"I got off to a fast start. Hit the pin on the first hole for eagle and it (the ball) went to about two feet. So it was cool to start out with a birdie. That gave me a little confidence and I just fed on it all day."
Asked if he had felt ready for this week's event after being catapulted into the limelight by his spectacular three-shot victory in Honolulu, Henley replied: "I've gotten some good rest the last few nights, so I felt pretty good today physically.
"I made some par putts when I had to. I'm feeling very confident. The last thing I want to do is waste any energy and be emotional right now.
"I got to conserve all my emotions and energy as much as I can so I can play another full golf tournament. That's what I'm focused on right now."
Henley, who stunned the golfing world with a spectacular display of clutch putting and ice-cool nerves as he closed with a seven-under 63 at the Sony Open, is a staggering 32 under for his last five rounds on the PGA Tour.
He came agonizingly close on Thursday to shooting a fourth 63 this season but eventually had to settle for an eight-under opening round.
"I thought about it coming down the stretch... but I was trying to push that thought out of my mind," Henley said of carding another 63.
"I gave myself a lot of good chances and it could have been lower, could have been higher. I felt great about the putter and just stayed patient. It was a really good day, I'm very happy with it."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by John O'Brien)