Greg Chalmers

Greg Chalmers of Australia watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images / June 26, 2014)

Birdie runs seemed to be the biggest difference between an average score and a good score in the opening round of the Quicken Loans National on Thursday at Congressional Country Club.

First-round leader Greg Chalmers of Australia put together three straight birdies to close the front nine and finished at 5-under-par 66. Erik Compton also had four in a row on the front — his back nine — to shoot 68.

Chalmers leads Ricky Barnes and Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden by one stroke. Four players — Compton, defending champion Bill Haas, Patrick Reed and Tyrone Van Aswegen of South Africa — are two shots behind.

It didn't hurt Chalmers that he needed just 25 putts on greens that were softened and slowed by some rain Wednesday night. The 40-year-old left-hander had 11 one-putt greens.

"It's the strength to my game, but it's a part of the game that you need to do well if you want to be successful," Chalmers said. "If you look at who wins tournaments each week, they do a lot more than that."

Chalmers, who once held off Tiger Woods to win his second Australian Open, has never won on the PGA Tour. He has two second-place finishes, including the 2000 Kemper Open at the nearby TPC at Avenel Farm.

"There's a long way to go," Chalmers said. "I had a really nice day today and I'm proud of that, and that's great. How that transpires into the rest of the week is what matters by the time I get to the tee at 1:48" today.

Qualifying round

A number of players, including Woods, are using this week to get their games ready for next month's British Open. Many more, including Chalmers, Barnes, Jacobson and Compton, are using it just to get to Royal Liverpool.

The top four finishers here among those who haven't qualified yet are exempted into the field as long as they finish in the top 12.

After not playing well in the Travelers Championship last week outside Hartford, Conn., Compton continued his performance from the recent U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where he finished a distant second to Martin Kaymer of Germany.

"I want to play in the British Open, and this is a great golf course to qualify on," Compton said. "If I don't, I'm going to take three weeks off and really enjoy [the results of the U.S.] Open and all the accomplishments that have been going on and decompress."

Barnes, who played in the second group off the first tee Thursday, started out with five straight pars before running off three straight birdies beginning on the par-5 sixth hole, has typically played well on U.S. Open venues such as Congressional.

"I figure if you can grind out some pars like I did today, when I did hit it into the rough, I'm not really losing any shots," Barnes said. "It's definitely not becoming a putting contest."

Hurley gets support

Nobody is naming his gallery Billy's Navy, but as the only service academy graduate to have made the PGA Tour, former midshipman Billy Hurley III often gets more attention at a tournament where Woods, its host, has made a point to honor the military.

Hurley must like both the event — formerly the AT&T National — as well as the course. After finishing tied for fourth as a PGA Tour rookie two years ago, when Woods won here for the second time, Hurley is again in contention after a solid 2-under par 69.

"I like hard golf courses," said Hurley, 32, who is back on the PGA Tour after playing on the Web.com Tour last year. "I tend to really play well on difficult course and here there's a certain premium to be in the fairway and I did that today."

Hurley said that his return to the tour has been a little easier mentally than his rookie year was in 2012.

"It's just easier the second time around," he said. "The second time around seeing golf courses, cities, airports, hotels, kind of just getting a better feel for the lay of the land, not kind of just showing up every week trying to figure out where the locker room is. It just makes it easier and a little bit less stressful."

don.markus@baltsun.com