So what do you think would happen if you hit 12 of 14 fairways, drove it an average of 318 yards, hit 14 of 18 greens, saved every par and birdie with your short game and putted so well that you gained 2.934 strokes on the field? Well, you might shoot 62 to lead the field at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
That’s what Ryan Palmer did in Thursday’s first round. Starting on the back, he cruised through the first four holes with 4 warm-up pars and then got serious with 4 birdies in a row. It’s nice to make the turn at 4-under, especially with a “new nine” coming up with fresh pickings.
And sure enough he birdied the 1st hole. Then he cruised with another par, no doubt with the “Horrible Horseshoe” holes of 3, 4 and 5 on his mind. If you had a choice you’d probably rather play them first rather than messing up a great start on the back. After all, last year those holes played the 8th, 6th and the most difficult.
But he got through them unscathed and polished off his round with closing birdies on 6, 7 and 9. Now it did help that he lives close to the course and is a dues-paying member. But even so, he said he never shot a 62 in practice rounds or games with his friends.
And it appears to be “home boy” week: John Rollins also lives nearby and has playing privileges. He too cruised though the Horrible Horseshoe; he started on the front and birdied the first two holes, so he had some nice momentum. And he birdied 6 on the way to a 3-under front. He got hung up with a bogey on 12, but he surrounded that with five birdies on the back; 4-under and an impressive 63.
There are four guys behind them that shot 64, perhaps the most heartwarming being Morgan Hoffman. Fresh off the Web.com Tour, he had a tough start to the year. Starting the year with a T67 at Sony, he only made two other cuts through the first week of May. He missed 6 of 9 cuts:
I had a really slow start. It’s tough with the reshuffles this season because it’s a shorter season, and you had to play good the first four weeks, which I didn’t, so it was difficult to get into events.
He did manage to get into last week’s HP Byron Nelson in Dallas, but the first two rounds looked for all the world like another mediocre tournament. But somehow he had the good sense to go back to his four-year-old putter and shoot back-to-back 66s and finish T5. Nobody saw that coming except him, the reason that good players always keep a positive attitude and patiently wait for the good rounds, the good tournament, to come to them. All you have to do is keep believing and keep doing the work
And there’s another good example in this group. John Peterson out of LSU went to a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open in 2012…and got in. He had his first hole-in-one in the third round and went on to finish T4. That qualified him for the 2013 Masters and U.S. Open and the year’s earnings earned him conditional status on the Web.com Tour.
He made the cut at the Masters and received a good old boy, LSU sponsor’s exemption into the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. He managed a T8 and that got him into Charlotte the following week. He missed the cut, but as they say in NASCAR, he got some more “seat time” and I’m sure he’d say that it’s all good. And now here he is in Fort Worth sitting T3. You never know how it’s going to happen, you just have to know that it will.
Canadian David Hearn was a member of the PGA Tour in 2005 and 2011 – 2012. And he earned his chops on the Web.com Tour in 2004 and 2006 – 2010. You just have to keep going no matter what the unfolding evidence is. This year he’s perking along making 8 of 14 cuts and almost $400,000. A T3 finish here will go a long way toward earning his card for 2014.
The 4th in this group is another Canadian, Graham DeLaet who seems to have finally settled into his sense of himself as a Tour pro. You find him on more and more leaderboards, his name no longer strange. He’s had 3 top 10s, made just over $800,000 and seems to have ensured that his name will be bantered about routinely. Do you know any Canadians? Ask ’em. They all know Graham DeLaet.
Matt Kuchar is at 5-under with Tommy Gainey, Jordan Spieth (out of University of Texas) and Matt Every. After a $2 million year in 2012, Every has all the assurances he needs that he belongs. When his Florida teammate, Billy Horschel, won his first tournament in New Orleans, Every was behind the 18th green to greet him. And the look on his face was one of joy for his friend, but also a spark of possibility that his was coming too. He bears watching because this feeling is a well-known trigger for golfers reaching the next step.
So those are the top leaders in a very bunched field. If 8-under is the benchmark score for a benign weather day, there are a total of 88 players at Even par or better.
This mystery will take a couple more days to untangle.