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Coles rides momentum into Classic

DULUTH - Last week Gavin Coles struggled in a Nationwide Tour event until the last five holes.

That momentum seems to have carried through to this week's BellSouth Classic. Coles opened on No. 10 with a birdie and finished one shot shy of a course record with an 8-under par 64. The effort left Coles alone in second, one shot behind Phil Mickelson.

His 144th round on the PGA Tour, which included an eagle out of the sand on No. 17, was his best ever and couldn't have come at a better time.

Coles, who joined the PGA Tour in 2003 after turning pro 14 years ago, is playing on a minor medical extension after sustaining an injury in last year's John Deere Classic.

"I tried to get a little extra on the second tee, which was my 11th hole on the John Deere Classic tournament there, and cracked my rib," Coles said. "It just went snap, under my right arm. I don't know why I played, but I actually finished the round and got up and played the next day for some reason."

A week and a half later an X-ray determined the extent of the injury.

"It was not very nice trying to roll over in bed anyway," the diminutive Aussie quipped.

The minor medical extension requires Coles to earn at least $267,213 in his first five Tour events this season. If he does that, he'll be able to play out the remainder of the season on a major medical extension. Coles has already played in two events and he still needs to make about $260,000. The winner's share here is $954,000, but even a top-five finish would likely get Coles the extension.

He's off to a good start at the TPC at Sugarloaf, a fast and firm course that suits Coles' game. His 64 held up until Mickelson tore through in the afternoon, taking over the lead with a 9-under 63.

"I haven't played with him, but I saw he's from Australia and he won a couple Nationwide Tour events," Mickelson said of Coles. "Obviously he's got a lot of game for him to get out here the way he did.

"He came out here not by fluke, but by winning golf tournaments and I think that says a lot."

After opening with a birdie on the par-5 10th, Coles really made some noise as he approached the turn. A birdie on 15 and par on 16 left him 3 under.

Then Coles holed-out a 5-iron from the bunker for an eagle on No. 17.

"I had 190 yards, a downhill shot," Coles said. "The pin was front right and I just sort of aimed it at the right side of the green. It flew over the slope that I had and it came out perfect, landed right on the front of the green.

"I didn't really see it go in, but it went in."

Coles, who is listed at 5-foot-4, said he knew it was good because the gallery let out a little bit louder cheer than normal.

A long putt on 18 for birdie rounded out the back nine and Coles started the more difficult front side with another birdie, hitting the flag stick with his second shot.

"So it was a nice little run and sort of got me really going," Coles said. "I've been working really hard with (coach) Gary (Edwin) two weeks ago and trying to get my golf swing to somewhere so that I hit the ball where I'm looking, not somewhere else. Actually the ball went where I was looking today."

Coles hit 16 of 18 greens and one of those misses was by an inch. The only real trouble of the day came when he was about 10 feet off the green on No. 7. Coles picked up his only bogey of the day there, but rebounded with a birdie on the par-3 No. 8 to get back to 8-under.

"Most courses, if they're firm and fast and the ball is actually running on the fairway, it actually helps me out," Coles said. "I don't hit it very long, but I hit it pretty straight. I like it when it's firm and fast and I can actually get it up there."

There's obviously a lot of golf yet to be played, but this is certainly an excellent way to start.

"Everybody in the world who plays professional golf would love to play and win on the PGA Tour," Coles said. "We all want to do that and it would be huge to actually do that. The week before the Masters, I mean, it's a great course, it's a great event and it would be just - it would be icing on the cake, wouldn't it.

"No one expects me to do any good. Any pressure will be what I put on myself."