Matt Bettencourt has spent the last year searching for answers to his severe asthma problem.
The journeyman PGA golfer finally found that answer last week, in the form of the right combination of medication.
His comfort showed on the golf course Thursday as he shot a 5-under par 67 to earn a share of the lead with Peter Tomasulo, and hold off a field that includes Rory McIlroy, after the first round of the Texas Open.
Minus the jitters and shakes he’s become so accustomed to, Bettencourt needed only 25 putts to hold off a group of four players — including former British Open and PGA Championship winner Padraig Harrington — at 4 under.
The 37-year-old looked more like the former PGA winner that he is rather than someone who’s 183rd on this year’s money list.
“My game hasn’t been the concern,” Bettencourt said. “I’ve gone back and forth from three to four different inhalers and some different medications, which has helped my health, but I haven’t been able to play golf with it at all.”
Tomasulo, meanwhile, looked anything but a player fighting to keep his tour card — taking advantage of warmer and calmer afternoon conditions while playing in the final pairing of the day.
He posted the only bogey-free round while playing in his sixth PGA tournament of the year.
Tomasulo entered the year with the opportunity to play in eight events, thanks to a medical exemption following a rib injury two years ago, and he closed with a 10-foot birdie on the par-5 18th to earn a share of the lead — and come one step closer to securing his tour card.
“I just played a solid round of golf to go around here with no bogeys,” Tomasulo said. “We got a good end of the draw, I think, with the weather calming down late in the day.”
Harrington and Billy Horschel shared the lead following the morning tee times, battling chilly and windy conditions. They were joined by Bryce Molder and Harris English at 4 under in the afternoon.
McIlroy, who entered the tournament as a final opportunity to prep for next week’s Masters, opened with an even-par 72 and is tied for 45th.
Bettencourt only made the tournament as an alternate after Henrik Stenson withdrew.
Bettencourt’s two-year exemption on tour ended after last season, following his 2010 win in the Reno-Tahoe Open. He had bounced between the PGA and Web.com tours this season, making only one cut in five events.