LAS VEGAS – Not a breath of air. Not a cloud in the sky. Not a blade of grass out of place.
How do you assess those playing conditions for Round 1 of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open?
“Perfect,” said Stephen Ames.
OK, not so perfect, because if you went out early – and Ames was off in the first group, at 6:55 a.m. – “it was extremely cold.”
The flip side: the greens were pure, devoid of the bumps that show up later in the day, and many of the early-goers took advantage, Ames among them. He shot 65.
But on this day, 65 was only good for a share of seventh.
Indeed, the time was ripe to take it low. That’s among the 5 Things to know from Round 1 here at TPC Summerlin:
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1. BIRDIE PARADE, THEN AN EAGLE: Someone was trying to put things in perspective and they offered J.J. Henry this: On his last visit to this PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas, 2009, Henry played 72 holes in 10 under.
Thursday, he reached that number in just 18 holes.
“Great feeling,” said Henry, in a classic understatement. “It was just kind of one of those days.”
What kind of day is that? Well, at his 18th hole, the 558-yard, par-5 ninth, Henry reached in two shots and had a 50-foot putt from the back of the green. “Just trying to get it down there somewhere (close),” Henry conceded.
He was more than close. He was in the bottom of the cup – clearly a bonus, but the closing eagle enabled him to establish a TPC Summerlin competitive course record. It also was a personal best, eclipsing the 61 he shot at the 2006 FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale.
Now, in 2009, Henry did shoot 63 here at the Shriners, en route to that 10-under finish, and that positive stuff mixes in nicely with his insistence that he loves this tournament. The only thing is, he hasn’t played here in any of the last four seasons.
“It’s just for whatever reason, just different things (going on), I haven’t done it in the last couple of years,” he said.
Playing in the sixth group off the 10th tee, Henry turned in a tidy 4-under 32. But what he did on the front nine was special. So special that he made sure the PGA Tour official really checked his inward nine of five birdies and an eagle.
“I was asking Johnny (Andrews, PGA Tour scoring official) to be sure, because I’ve never written down a 28 (for nine). I want to make sure I’m doing it right,” laughed Henry.
The eagle, of course, was a bonus, but the birdies that preceded that were quality ball-striking and superb putting. He hit it 19 feet at the second, 6 feet at the fourth, 27 feet at the fifth, 4 feet at the sixth, and 20 feet at the eighth. For the day, Henry played the par-3s in 3-under, the par-4s in 5-under, the par-5s in 3-under, and he hit 8 of 14 fairways and 17 greens.
“I know I have to continue to still go low,” Henry said. “But obviously, any time you start with a round like I had, it gives you a lot of confidence for the rest of the week.”
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2. RAREFIED AIR: Hard to believe, but Andres Romero is starting his seventh year on the PGA Tour, and he got it off in style with a bogey-free 61. Romero made a pair of eagles, holing a 26-footer at the par-5 ninth and a 25-footer at the par-4 15th after driving the green from 301 yards.
Though he’s always been considered a fiery, explosive, and very aggressive player (Oh, if he had only toned down the aggressiveness at Carnoustie in 2007 when he could have won the Open Championship), Romero had never shot better than 63 on the PGA Tour.
In fact, really low scores have not been easy for the Argentine. His last 64 came in Round 1 of the 2011 Travelers and his last 63 came in Round 4 of the Frys.com Open in 2009.
Of course, not a lot of people were asking for a piece of Romero after his 61. That’s what happens when you come in a few minutes after the leader shoots 60. But no worries, “I was feeling very good this week (and) my swing is there,” said Romero, who is one guy who can attest to having had an offseason.
“After New York (The Barclays, in late August) I didn’t play any tournament. I was practicing a lot and working on my game.”
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3. EASY? WHO SAID IT WAS EASY? So, there was a 60, a 61, 16 eagles and 555 birdies. Little pitch ’n putt out there in Vegas?
Well, to some, it was an easy stroll, but don’t think that everyone had an easy time of it. Fact is, some struggled. Patrick Reed, for instance, was 7 over after five holes, having made a quadruple bogey at the par-4 second hole, a double at the par-4 third, and a bogey at the par-3 fifth. He shot 77.
David Hearn also had his hands full. He failed to make a birdie in his round of 77. Bob Estes, meanwhile, had two doubles in his round of 76.
And while Mark Wilson only shot 74, it must have felt 94. That’s because he was paired with J.J. Henry, who put up a sizzling 60. Had they been involved in a match, Henry would have whipped Wilson, 7 and 5.
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4. FAST START: Not a bad way to begin the day, eh, Jeff Overton? He offered not so much a smile as a sheepish grin. Clearly, he didn’t mean to knock that 128-yard shot into the cup at the first.
Having pulled his drive into left rough at the 417-yard hole, Overton had to contend with a tree so he opted to hit “a low, sharp hook pitching web.”
Darned if it didn’t land perfectly and roll 30 feet into the cup for an eagle.
But as good as the start was, what preserved Overton’s 8-under 63 was the way he handled things at the par-5 16th. Trying to reach the green from right rough and 219 yards out, Overton came up short and in the water. Maintaining composure, Overton dropped, lazered a wedge to 8 feet, and made the putt to save par.
All in all, thus far Overton has to be happy with his season. Four rounds at the Frys.com Open and one here, a tidy 18-under, and four scores in the 60s.
“It’s a really fun golf course, if you hit the fairways,” he said.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Sean O’Hair, David Lingmerth, and Romero made the eagles at the short, par-4 15th. . . . On the fifth anniversary of his lone PGA Tour win, Marc Turnesa is back at TPC Summerlin, playing in just his third PGA Tour stop since 2013. He started with a 68. . . . Talk about recovering from rough starts, James Driscoll hit his opening drive so far left at the first that he chose to play a provisional. Driscoll was able to play the first shot, however, made par, and went on to shoot 63. . . . Playing for the 21st time here, Davis Love shot 69. . . . Last week’s winner, Jimmy Walker, made four bogeys and shot level-par 71.