NAPLES, Fla. – Two very different teams played to their strengths to achieve the same results Friday in the first round of the Shark Shootout.
Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, the defending champions, and Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter put up matching 9-under 63s in the modified alternate-shot format to take the lead at Tiburon Golf Club.
Stricker and Kelly have similar games, while Johnson hits massive drives and Poulter is more accurate off the tee. Johnson and Poulter also have an edge as far as rankings with both in the top 15 in the world, while Stricker and Kelly are good friends and know how to complement each other on the course.
“We’re still a great team and sometimes teams can support each other, and it can help an individual along, even though you’re playing your own ball,” Kelly said. “It’s still a team game.”
The 63s tied the mark for low score in the format in the tournament’s 10 years at Tiburon.
“I think it was a dream start, to be honest,” Poulter said.
The overall format record is a 57 by Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd in 1990 at Sherwood Country Club in California. The 12 teams playing in the tournament hosted by Greg Norman will play better ball Saturday, and a scramble on Sunday in the $3 million event.
Mark Calcavecchia and Jeff Overton, who grabbed the early lead with an eagle-birdie start, and Fred Funk and Kenny Perry were tied for third at 8 under. Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank were fifth at 6 under.
Members of those three teams in contention have good records in the event.
Calcavecchia, who is playing in his 17th Shootout, has won twice, and so has Perry. Leonard and Verplank lost in a playoff in 2006, and tied for second last year.
Norman and partner Matt Kuchar were last in the field after a 72.
Both of the first-round leaders stumbled down the stretch.
Sitting at 8 under through 11 holes, Johnson and Poulter bogeyed the par-3 12th, and despite the long-hitting Johnson, the duo parred both the par-5 14th and 17th.
“Parring the two par-5s was brutal,” Johnson said. “It was no fun. No. 14 was playing pretty tough, but No. 17 was playing fairly easy. We hit four pretty good shots and we made a 5.”
Poulter rued the failure to build on a strong start.
“It’s just a shame that we kind of parred two of the par-5s,” Poulter said. “I think we were really looking to take advantage of those, especially with Dustin’s length, and how we got off to a decent start.”
Stricker and Kelly were at 10 under through 15, then bogeyed the par-5 17th after Stricker knocked his second shot near the lip of a greenside bunker. Kelly was forced to play the ball directly to the left instead of straight at the pin, then barely got it out of the bunker. He missed a 10-footer for par. They missed the green at the last, but two-putted for par.
Johnson and Poulter both hit poor tee shots on the par-3 12th.
“I’m not taking the full blame on that one,” Poulter joked, although he did admit he may have jinxed them when he said then they had gotten off to a good start.
Still, they’re happy with where they’re at and confident heading into the final two rounds.
“Our game, I think, is very good for this format,” Poulter said. “Better ball (Saturday) gives us plenty of chances. I’m playing well. Dustin’s hitting it long and straight, and that’s dangerous.
“That’s also going to be very dangerous come Sunday in that scramble format. You’ve just got to keep hitting good golf shots. We’ve certainly done that today in this format, which is the trickiest of the three.”