5 Things: Rookies rise to the top at Sony Open
HONOLULU - Only weeks ago, Scott Langley was working his way through Q-School in hopes of a full-time PGA Tour card.
If Thursday's round at the Sony Open is any indication, Langley doesn't intend to ever feel that stress again.
Langley had six birdies and an eagle to fire an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over another rookie, Russell Henley, at Waialae Country Club.
Henley and Langley went to the 18th tied at 7 under, but Langley took advantage of the par-5 finishing hole to take the outright lead.
Henley had eight birdies and a bogey in his PGA Tour debut.
Of the 29 PGA Tour rookies, 23 are teeing it up here at Waialae.
Clearly, it was a day of different emotions for the youngsters. While Langley and Henley burned it up, at the other end of the spectrum was the trio of Eric Meierdierks (77), Luke List (74), and Patrick Reed (72), who combined to play their last nine holes – the front side – in 13 over.
Before Langley and Henley stole the spotlight, Morgan Hoffmann’s morning 66 was the best rookie score.
Three other rookies – Brad Fritsch, Robert Streb and Ben Kohles – posted 67s.
• • •
2. GOING FOR DISTANCE: After shooting an 8-under 62 in his first round as a rookie on the PGA Tour, Scott Langley said, “I love the greens. They’re in perfect shape. It's kind of cliché, but if you hit a good putt, it's going to go in.”
How true. The Illinois graduate made 198 feet, 2 inches worth of putts on the grainy Waialae greens.
Langley led the field by an impressive 44 feet over Jason Kokrak (154 feet, 1 inch). How extraordinary is that? Fifteen players made less than 44 feet of putts during the round, including major champions Zach Johnson and Y.E. Yang.
Langley’s longest made putt was a 56-foot, 4-inch bomb for eagle on the par-5 ninth hole to secure a front-nine 30.
• • •
3. FAST START: Even for a guy who has piled up a healthy list of notable achievements at Waialae, Charles Howell III produced something Thursday that he had never done: Open with a 66.
In 11 previous trips to Honolulu, Howell had never done better than 67 in Round 1, so he’s clearly happy with his latest start at the Sony Open.
“I like it here,” Howell said with a smile. “I don’t know why, but I like it.”
His game shows it, too, because having played here each year since 2002, Howell has finished in the top 5 six times, including last year’s runner-up finish.
Now 33, Howell still has but two career wins and knows that folks see him as someone who should have won more. He doesn’t disagree, but he also thinks that he’s in the prime of his career – even if everyone around him makes him feel differently.
Talking about the long list of rookies, Howell shook his head. “I saw (fellow Oklahoma State Cowboy) Morgan Hoffmann. I think he just turned 12,” Howell said.
Hoffmann was part of a seven-man logjam at 67, topped in the morning by only Scott Piercy (64) and Jeff Overton (65).
For Howell, who has now shot in the 60s for the 29th time in his 41st round at Waialae, it was a very tidy day. He birdied three times on his first nine, the back, got to 4 under at the par-4 sixth, then dropped his only shot of the day, at the par-4 eighth. But to help make his lunch taste better, Howell got it up-and-down from the fringe to birdie the soft, par-5 ninth and shoot 66.
An old story, perhaps, but he’s off to another solid start at the Sony.
“I’ve always enjoyed coming here since the first time (2002),” Howell said. “It’s a nice week. It’s an easy way to start, coming to Hawaii.”
• • •
4. A BUMPY FEW DAYS: Zach Johnson made the trip from Maui to Honolulu with Matt Kuchar and wife Sybi on Tuesday night.
The flight was one thing, but the drive to the hotel was much worse, and after a very quick registration process at the hotel, Johnson would have 24 hours of the flu.
Johnson was looking like a no-go up to late Wednesday night, when he started to feel better.
“I just couldn't swing a golf club,” Johnson said of the reason he couldn’t play in the pro-am. “Went back (to the hotel), and took electrolytes, electrolytes, water, water, water, had some food last night, some pasta. My stomach was all crampy.”
Johnson hoped to devour the pasta dinner, but could eat only a few bites.
By Thursday morning, he could eat a full breakfast and play, though he could open with no better than a 1-over 71.
• • •
5. OLDIE, BUT GOODIE: Russ Cochran came to Hawaii to play next week in the Champions Tour opener, the Mitsubishi Electric Championship. On the way, he decided to Monday-qualify for the Sony Open.
Shooting a smooth 3-under 67 at Turtle Bay, Cochran, 54, made the Sony Open field. After nine holes in Thursday’s first round, the left-hander found himself just two shots off the lead.
“I was antsy starting off and I made a couple good par saves and a couple good two‑putts, and then I got in a really good rhythm,” Cochran said after a first-round 68. “To be honest with you, I thought I was going to go pretty low.”
Pitching wedges into the third and fifth holes took Cochran to 2 under via short birdies. He added a birdie on the seventh from 15 feet and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 ninth, putting the Kentuckian is great position going into the back nine.
“The wheels started coming off a little bit on 10 and 11," Cochran said. “I left it short on 10 and bogeyed 11 and 12 there. I guess overall I'm pleased. I was excited to play a decent round and not get started off bad and play poorly.”
The afternoon at Waialae is usually more difficult than the morning, and Thursday was no different. Wind, cooler conditions and shadows added to the difficulty in reading the grainy greens.
For Cochran, the conditions contributed to a difficult back nine, but his age and stamina also affected him.
“It's a little bit embarrassing to say, but I'm getting a little wobbly after 10 or 12 holes,” Cochran said to his caddie/son. “I also made the comment to Chez (Reavie): This is going to be great for me for next week, because I get to build up a little stamina, battle the wind, battle the sun, shadows and stuff, so it's really good.”