Five Things of note from the first-round of the Sony Open:
1. Rookies on a roll
Only weeks ago, Scott Langley was working his way through Q-School in hopes of a full-time PGA Tour card.
If his round Thursday 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-par 62 to take a one-shot lead over another rookie, Russell Henley, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
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 CC.
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 Hoffman’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. Its kind of cliche, but if you hit a good putt, its going to go in.”
How true that was as the Illinois graduate made 198 feet, 2 inches worth of putts on the grainy Waialae greens.
Langley led the field by impressive 44 feet over Jason Kokrak (154 feet, 1 inch). In terms of how extraordinary that is, 15 players made less than 44 feet of putts during the round, including major champions Zach Johnson and Y.E. Yang.
The longest putt made by Langley’s was a 56-foot, 4-inch bomb for eagle on the par-5 ninth hole. It secured a front-nine 30 for Langley.
3. Fast start
Even for a guy who has piled up a healthy list of notable achievements at Waialae, Thursday produced something Charles Howell III 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 five 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.
As fate would have it, Hoffmann is part of the 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 a no-go for the pro-am, and it was only late Wednesday night that 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 and just could take a few bites, he just couldn’t eat.
But by Thursday morning Johnson could eat a full breakfast and play, but not exactly what he was hoping for shooting 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, but on the way he decided to Monday qualify for the Sony Open.
Shooting a smooth 3-under 67 at Turtle Bay, Cochran made the Sony Open field and through nine holes in Thursday’s first round, the left-hander was only 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.”
A pitching wedge into the third and fifth holes took Cochran to 2 under after converting short birdies, a birdie on the seventh from 15 feet and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 ninth put the 54 year-old Kentuckian is great position going into the back nine.
“The wheels started coming off a little bit on 10 and 11," Cochran lamented. “I left it short on 10 and bogeyed 11 and 12 there. I guess overall I’m pleased 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 with more wind, cooler conditions and shadows making it difficult to read the grainy greens.
For Cochran all of those contributed to a difficult back nine, but his age and stamina also contributed.
“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.”
Golfweek’s Alex Miceli contributed to this report.