Steele eager to get started, and it showed at Silverado
NAPA, Calif. (AP) Brendan Steele rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt, and then added two more birdies from about that range. It was a good start to the new PGA Tour season, and it did not get past the sarcastic humor wit of playing partner Steve Wheatcroft.
Walking off the 15th green at Silverado, he said Wheatcroft told him, ”Just hang in there. It’s a long season. You’ll make one eventually.”
It is a long season.
Will MacKenzie hit the opening tee shot Thursday at the Frys.com Open (right rough), and someone will make the final putt 336 days from now at East Lake.
Steele, meanwhile, made plenty of putts.
He made nine birdies, missed one green and had no stress on his way to a 9-under 63 for a one-shot lead over Jhonattan Vegas.
”As weird as it is to say, it was kind of a basic 63,” he said.
That was understandable looking at the scores, with about one-third of the field in the 60s. Vegas had a 64, while PGA Tour rookie Harold Varner III and Martin Laird were at 65. Laird had the lowest score from the afternoon.
Rory McIlroy shot a 68.
The opening day in the PGA Tour season used to feature a collection of winners because it used to begin at Kapalua with the Tournament of Champions. This is the third year of the new wraparound season that starts two weeks after the old season.
So it was a wide mix of players at the top:
CHOMPING AT THE BIT: Even though Steele played his last tournament only a month ago, he was eager to get started.
He had some good results toward the end of the year, took a short break, started practicing and liked how his game felt.
”In the pro-am yesterday I was like, `We need to get this tournament going.’ I hate it when I’m home and I feel really good,” he said. ”It’s hard to keep it. I always say that your game is either coming or going, right? So when it’s coming, you want to be in the right place.”
He was in the right place. Steele finished the back nine with five straight birdies, cooled slightly, and picked up two birdies on the front for a 63. A kind of basic 63.
RORY’S BALANCE: McIlroy said the key to this week in wine country was keeping the right balance between playing well and enjoying himself off the course. He got a little of both on Thursday with a 68 in the morning and a planned excursion to the vineyards in the afternoon.
His only regret on the golf course was not getting enough putts to fall, though five birdies for a 68 was a reasonable start.
”Gave myself a lot of chances,” McIlroy said. ”I converted a few, but I’ll need to hole a few more. I feel like this is a golf course that you can give yourself a lot of chances. If I can keep hitting the ball the way I am and just hole a few more, I’ll be OK.”
BIG CHANCE: Vegas lost his card last year and failed to earn it back at the Web.com Tour Finals. He will have to rely on his limited status as a past champion and sponsor exemptions, like the one he got to the Frys.com Open. With an uncertain schedule, he was thrilled with his start.
And then there’s Scott Langley, who finished No. 127 in the FedEx Cup and has conditional status for players who were Nos. 126-150. He also was given an exemption and shot a 67. Asked if it was weighing on him that he needs to play well early in the year, Langley replied, ”My hope is that I am playing out of that category one more week.”
BIG DIFFERENCE: Varner, who joins Tiger Woods as the only player of black heritage on the PGA Tour this year, had a good start thanks to a sensational finish. He closed out his 65 by going eagle-birdie-birdie. The biggest difference he noticed about the big leagues was the crowd – not much by PGA Tour standards, but certainly a lot more than he saw on the Web.com Tour last year.
”It’s fun until you hit one too far left or right,” Varner said. ”I get a little nervous because there are people over there. Usually there is no one over there and I just go find it. But there are so many people, you might hit them. So it’s good. Different experience. I guess you’ve just got to get used to it.”
BIG TRIP: Four players at the Frys.com Open were in South Korea for the Presidents Cup on Sunday, and none stood out.
Chris Kirk, who holed the most important putt last week in the American victory, had a 72. So did Steven Bowditch, who won his singles match. The best score belonged to Hideki Matsuyama at 70. The low score of all the Presidents Cup men would have belonged to Charl Schwartzel. But he was penalized two shots for being late to the tee (he was inside the ropes but not at the tee), turning his 69 into a 71.