ORLANDO, Fla. – On Sunday at the Transitions Championship, Charlie Wi went tilt. He made a 13 on one hole.
Today, in his first round since, he went stack. He piled up seven birdies.
If you deduced that he quickly put the crazy hole behind him, you would be right.
“I was pretty mad on the (next) tee,” Wi said after shooting 6-under 66 at Bay Hill and taking the early first-round lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “But after that, I was fine. Yeah, that 13, it’s just a number. I promise you, I didn’t even think about it after that.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t joke about the odd figure – the highest score on any hole this year and five less than the dubious PGA Tour record of 18, set by John Daly on Bay Hill No. 6 in 1998.
“I figured I should have gone for some Tour record so at least I could be remembered,” cracked Wi, one of the poster boys of the Stack & Tilt swing.
Wi’s troubles Sunday began when his drive came to rest in front of a wood chip and his second shot squirted to the right, behind a tree, on the fifth hole of Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course. When he attempted to squeeze mid-iron shots through the Y in the tree, his ball hit the tree and caromed out of bounds on three consecutive swings.
“I couldn’t take any more shots because I took three big divots, so I had to go sideways,” Wi said, smiling.
Not only that, there was concern about running out of balls.
“I couldn’t afford to risk it because I had some water holes coming in,” he said, laughing.
Runner-up at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last month, Wi came to Bay Hill without much expectation. Not because of Sunday’s hiccup. Rather, his track record here didn’t breed confidence.
Wi withdrew and missed the cut in 2007-08 during the three years Bay Hill was a par 70. That was enough to make him skip the event the next year.
“I told my caddie, ‘This course isn’t for me,’ ” said Wi, five times a runner-up but never a winner on Tour. “I just thought it was too much of a bomber’s golf course and I just couldn’t compete.”
He returned in 2010 when the course reverted to par 72, when Nos. 4 and 16, two holes that gave him trouble, were changed back to par 5s. He produced MC and T-24, respectively, the past two years.
So he’s just as surprised as you are that he’s leading. He said he would’ve taken a 70 before he teed off Thursday. The 66 in his world was a “pleasant surprise.”
That score was fueled by solid ball-striking (14 greens in regulation) and good long-range putting (makes from 35, 31 and 21 feet). Interesting, he missed eagle putts from 12-13 feet on his two former nemesis holes, Nos. 4 and 16.
Wi says he feels closer to winning, more comfortable when around the lead. Trace that to experience and perhaps the wisdom that comes with turning 40.
Not that he wants you to know how old he is.
“I didn’t even tell my friends,” Wi said of his milestone birthday in January. “I was embarrassed. I don’t feel that old.”
With age comes responsibility. One of his duties this week is to honor 6-year-old daughter Kaylan’s request and bring home a Walt Disney World T-shirt.
“I told her I’m not at Disney World,” he said. “I’ll probably just go to Walgreens or something and get one.”