5 Things: Perez, Lee shine early; Mickelson struggles
After the fog finally lifted before the first round of the Valero Texas Open – delaying play for nearly 150 minutes – it was a struggle for the field to manage the JW Marriott course in San Antonio.
Pat Perez and Danny Lee managed 4-under 68s to hold the clubhouse lead, while Andrew Loupe was 4 under through 11 holes before play was halted due to darkness on Thursday evening.
Before play was called for the day, only 50 of 144 players were 1 under or better – while the likes of Phil Mickelson (5 over), Jordan Spieth (3 over) and Billy Horschel (8 over) will be fighting for their weekend lives on Friday.
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1. FAMILY TIES: This wouldn’t quite be like his spirited effort to win at Torrey Pines in his hometown of San Diego. For Pat Perez, the ties to San Antonio are there; they’re just not that deep and personal.
“My dad was born here and he’s got three brothers and sisters who are here and I’ve probably got a hundred cousins,” said Perez. “I (just) don’t now any of them.”
Honest to a fault and refreshingly blunt, Perez opened with a 4-under 68 to share the clubhouse lead with Danny Lee, but he wanted to caution folks about playing up the “family angle at one of his favorite stops.”
He shook his head. “This is the fourth time I’ve ever been here. I met one (an uncle). They live here somewhere, but I’ve never seen them. (But) I know they’re around.”
Having a spot in the first tee time, at 7:30, Perez was on the range at the crack of dawn – only you couldn’t see dawn. It was dark, it was foggy, and to make matters worse, it was drizzly and cool.
“Felt like it was snowing. I hit balls with four layers of clothes,” said Perez.
With a series of delays, first 30 minutes, then another 15, then another 30, finally it wasn’t until 10:30 that Perez pushed off along with Will MacKenzie and Briny Baird. Finishing birdie, birdie, birdie, Perez shook off one bogey to settle in at 4 under, while MacKenzie was nearly as good, a 69.
“Me and Willie Mac, we had a fun group there,” said Perez, who did say that his father will often come back to visit family in San Diego. But not this year, partly because Tony Perez stayed back home for a Wounded Warriors project and partly because his son hadn’t mentioned playing in the Valero.
“I really wasn’t going to play here until Sunday when I shot 200, so I didn’t give him enough notice to come out,” said Perez, who embellishes things a bit. He only shot 83 Sunday at Bay Hill, but you get his point.
He was awful and needed a way to get better quickly.
Sounds like his plan is thus far paying off.
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2. A DAY TO FORGET: Phil Mickelson is using both Texas stops as a tune-up for the upcoming Masters. If Thursday is any indication, he might be practicing on his own this weekend.
Mickelson carded a 5-over 77 – including a double bogey on his final hole, the par-4 9th – for his worst round on the PGA Tour in the wraparound 2014 season. He had previously posted three 74s this season.
Mickelson was in the day's marquee pairing with Jordan Spieth, who also struggled to a 3-over 75. Spieth needed four birdies over his final nine holes to salvage the 75, picking up bogey on his first four holes and making the turn with a 6-over 42.
Spieth (9 starts) and Mickelson (7 starts) have missed a cut apiece this season.
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3. DAN THE MAN: Danny Lee is on a bit of roll after his runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open earlier this month, putting behind the eight missed cuts in 12 events behind him.
Lee used five birdies – including four over his final five holes – to fire a 4-under 68 and grab a share of the lead on Thursday. It is the fourth time he has fired a 68 in the opening round of his 13 PGA Tour tournaments this season.
“I was hitting it really well,” Lee said. "I wasn’t making enough putts in the early round but at the end I made some 15-footers and 25-footers to shoot 4 under today.”
Lee wasn't shy about admitting that the Puerto Rico finish has meant all the difference.
“I was kind of doubting myself,” Lee said. “I wasn’t really committed to every shot I hit. Ever since I finished second at Puerto Rico, everything changed a little bit for me. I was starting to act more positive. I was believing in every shot I hit and was believing in my game.”
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4. MASTERS WATCH: Chesson Hadley was the man that beat out Danny Lee in Puerto Rico, and now the PGA Tour rookie is looking to cap his stellar month with a ticket to Augusta National.
Hadley will likely either need a win (automatic berth) or a top-7 finish (he's No. 56 in the OWGR) to earn his first trip to the Masters. The top 50 in the OWGR at the end of the week receive automatic invitations to Georgia.
He started off strong in San Antonio on Thursday, posting a 3-under 69 to sit just a shot off the lead – including a run of three birdies to end his round.
Hadley has three top-10 finishes in 13 events this season.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: There are 20 players tied at T-10 at 2 under, including Zach Johnson, Aaron Baddeley, Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar . . . Billy Horschel had a day to forget, posting an 8-over 80 behind six bogeys and a double bogey . . . Three-time PGA Tour winner Jimmy Walker started with two birdies throughs six holes, but would muster only one more against two doubles and two bogeys in a 4-over 76.