Ryan Palmer has a definite home-course advantage at the Colonial.
Palmer and his longtime caddie James Edmondson are both full-fledged members of the club, and play there quite often. Edmondson is even the reigning Colonial club champion, having won his third such title just last year.
Making good use of all that local knowledge, Palmer shot an 8-under 62 on Thursday that matched the lowest PGA Tour first round at Hogan’s Alley. That put him a stroke ahead of John Rollins, who had his best round this season.
”It’s pretty neat. A lot of fun,” Palmer said. ”I don’t even pull out my yardage book except to fill out the scorecard. When I see the pins I can tell you, I know everything about the greens. It’s a matter of what’s the yardage, get the wind. It helps obviously the experience I have had here. I hope we keep going.”
Rollins, who like Palmer lives in nearby Colleyville, has playing privileges at Colonial like other PGA Tour players. He doesn’t play the 7,204-yard layout nearly as much as Palmer, who became a full dues-paying member in 2010.
”He’s a pretty permanent fixture in the men’s group and everything that goes on out here,” Rollins said.
Graham DeLaet, wearing pants with a plaid design similar to the jacket Colonial winners get, matched Morgan Hoffmann, David Hearn and John Peterson at 64. Matt Kuchar, No. 13 in the world ranking and the highest-ranked player in the 136-man invitational field, was in a group of six players at 65.
More than half the field, 71 players, shot under par. Defending champion Zach Johnson had four birdies and three bogeys in a round of 69.
Standing in the fairway on his last hole, Edmondson had a quick message for Palmer. It would take a closing birdie to match the caddie’s low round at Colonial.
”What do you do when you get that thrown at you,” said Palmer, who then hit his approach to 5 feet at the 388-yard ninth hole to finish a bogey-free round that matched his best on the PGA Tour.
That was also his lowest score ever at Colonial, where he generally plays two or three times a week during the offseason and once or twice during weeks he’s not playing the PGA Tour.
”These old men here make me grind because I have to give them so many shots. Maybe that helps,” Palmer said, smiling. ”Usually in a practice round, I don’t think I’ve shot below 65. You just don’t grind a lot. In this situation, you grind a little harder. You are able to focus more. When I’m out here with the guys, I mean half the time I might grab a few (beers) for the back nine.”
The former Texas A&M player with three PGA Tour victories hit 12 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation. His first birdie putt was his longest, a 17-footer on his fifth hole, the 442-yard 14th, to start a stretch of four consecutive birdies. The only other birdie over 10 feet was a 14-footer at the 391-yard No. 6, part of three birdies his last four holes.
Rollins’ only bogey came after his drive at the 431-yard 12th landed in a fairway bunker. But he quickly got that stroke back at the 193-yard 13th hole when he hit his tee shot within 7 feet of the cup.
Kuchar’s only bogey came at the 241-yard, par-3 fourth , the middle hole of Colonial’s famed ”horrible horseshoe” because of the layout of a three-hole stretch where that par 3 is sandwiched by the two longest par 4s on the course. But he came right back with a 10-foot birdie at the 472-yard fifth to get to 5 under.
Colonial is one of Kuchar’s favorite courses. Plus, the PGA Tour’s two-week visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the Byron Nelson Championship and the Colonial provides extra time for him to work with his Dallas-based swing coach.
”I feel like I start coming along maybe the end of this week,” Kuchar said. ”Things get really clicking.”
In his nine previous PGA Tour appearances at Colonial, Palmer’s only top 10 was a tie for fifth last year. He missed the cut in 2010, the same year he formally joined the club. Now he leads there on the PGA Tour.
”This is what I dream about when I play here every year,” Palmer said. ”This is the one tournament I gear up for the most.”