Former NCAA champ leads Sony Open
Scott Langley made a his first round as a PGA Tour rookie a day he won't soon forget.
Russell Henley wasn't too shabby, either.
Langley thrived on a penetrating ball flight and a pure putting stroke Thursday for an 8-under 62, giving him a one-shot lead over Henley in the first round of the Sony Open. Henley played in the same group as Langley, and they put on quite a show at Waialae Country Club.
Henley made five birdies on the back nine, holing 15-footers with confidence. But the Georgia grad couldn't keep on the par-5 18th hole when his chip from short of the green came out hot and he had to settle for a two-putt par from 30 feet.
''I'm a young guy," Langley said, "but I'm old enough to know that we have a lot of golf left. We've barely started, and I'm excited about the next few days."
Langley, a former NCAA champion from Illinois who played in six PGA Tour events before earning his tour card in Q-School to end 2012, played bogey-free in a steady wind — nowhere near the gusts of Kapalua last week — and made a couple of long putts.
He holed from 55 feet across the green for eagle on the par-5 ninth and then took the outright lead on the 16th when a fairway bunker shot landed on the front part of the green, and he rapped in a 30-footer for birdie.
His final birdie came on the 18th with a tough flop shot over a bunker that settled about 6 feet away. He made that for birdie, just like he made putts from similar length for par to keep his round intact.
Scott Piercy had a 64 in the morning, and Tim Clark matched that in the afternoon.
Dustin Johnson, trying to become the first player in 10 years to sweep the Hawaii swing after his win last week at windy Kapalua, finished with a pair of bogeys for a 70.
Langley was not entirely new to big-time golf. He qualified for two US Opens and tied for low amateur — with Henley, no less — at Pebble Beach in 2010.
But considering the nerves he felt on the first tee, and going around this tight course without a bogey, he didn't hesitate to call this round his best ever as a pro.
Adding to the dream day was being alongside Henley, one of his closest friends.
Henley also has a strong pedigree, having won on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur and twice more last year to earn his card.
As they walked up the 16th fairway late in the afternoon, the sun starting to slide toward the Pacific horizon and the skinny palms swaying in the wind, they couldn't help but think back to one year ago.
They were playing in a Hooters Tour event in Florida, Henley missing the cut and Langley barely making it.
''We were on the range trying to help each other find it,'' Langley said. ''We were just walking up 16. You could see the ocean behind, PGA Tour signs everywhere. We looked at each other and realized this is pretty cool. To look back one year ago and to know that we weren't here . . . we were in a far different place.''
And now they're the top names on the leaderboard after one round of the first full-field tournament of the year.
They also had company.
Morgan Hoffman, another rookie, opened with a 66 in the morning. Ben Kohles, who turned pro last summer and won his first two starts on the Web.com Tour, had a 67.
There was room for veterans, too.
Piercy made it look like a breeze, especially compared with the vicious gusts last week at the Tournament of Champions that didn't start until Monday and ended 29 hours later on Tuesday. In a more gentle breeze, and on more traditional greens of Waialae, he played bogey-free and had a pair of two-putt birdies from inside 12 feet for a 66.
Clark was the runner-up at the Sony Open two years ago, the last time he was fully healthy. He suffered a mysterious elbow injury that effectively knocked him out for a year. He showed up with minimal expectations at the first tournament of the year for him, and was pleasantly surprised to get around in a bogey-free 64.
''It's going to be an exciting year for me because I do feel like I'm healthy again and can play a full schedule,'' Clark said. ''I'm, obviously, doing a lot better than I was last year.''
But even Clark couldn't help but notice the names on the leaderboard, mainly because he didn't know who they were. There's always a few rookies to get off to a quick start at the Sony Open. It was rare to see them leading, and with such low scores.
There was a comfort level in Langley's group, however. He and Henley became fast friends after leaving Pebble Beach as low amateurs and flying to Northern Ireland together for the Palmer Cup. Also in their group was Luke Guthrie, who was Langley's roommate at Illinois.
''I think there was a lot of nerves for me the first few holes and I think playing with Scotty and Luke was huge for me, and watching them play well kind of gave me a goal to try to keep up with them, so it was definitely fun feeding off them,'' Henley said.
One group failed to finish before darkness. Seventy players in the 144-man field broke par, a group included a pair from the Champions Tour. Russ Cochran, who won the Senior British Open in 2011, had a 68, and Fred Funk was at 70.
Piercy, the Canadian Open champion, was among 20 players who started their season last week on Maui, even though it took until the fourth day — when the Tournament of Champions was supposed to end — that the tournament actually began.
Then, he was at the course Wednesday for more than eight hours, mostly on the putting greens.
''Seven three-putts and a four-putt last week,'' he said before leaving.
No two courses are more different in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour than these two — the Plantation Course at Kapalua build on the side of a mountain, with dramatic changes in elevation and fairways some 80 yards wide, the other built along the shores of Oahu, with tight fairways that wind through skinny palms.
And then there was the wind.
''The wind wasn't even blowing today compared to last week,'' Piercy said. ''I just played solid today, hit it in a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens, made two fairly key putts and took care of the par 5s.''