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Low Scoring on First Day of Humana Challenge
As usual, the Humana Challenge - the former Bob Hope Classic - is off to a roaring start with a lot of players posting crooked numbers at the three courses used for the $5.6 million pro-celebrity tournament in balmy La Quinta, Calif.
The trio of venues in the rotation - La Quinta Country Club and the Nicklaus Private and Palmer at PGA West - was generally very yielding to the field. The onslaught was led by Roberto Castro (Nicklaus), Jason Kokrak (La Quinta) and James Hahn (Palmer), who each shot 9-under 63. Castro is a second-year player and Hahn is a Tour rookie.
"I got off to a good start, I birdied the first two with kick-ins, basically," Castro said. "And then just played well after that. Didn't make any long putts until the 18th hole I rolled in like a 40-, 50 footer . . . So this tournament you kind of got to get it going and keep it going."
Kokrak, one of the Tour's longest hitters, said later there are places where it's bombs away but there are other junctures where he needs to rein back a bit. "There's holes out on both Nicklaus and Palmer courses where I can hit the driver and be aggressive, but coming up eight, eight and nine are somewhat long holes, but you have to be in the fairway to have a scoring opportunity there," said the Ontario, Canada native.
"So where I hit the driver that necks up pretty good at about 315, 320, so I'll probably hit 3 iron off of eight and 3 wood off of nine," added the 27-year-old, who's in search for his maiden Tour title. "But other than that it's more of a game plan, individual shots. I mean, if the wind kicks up, it will be a little bit different, but overall it will - yeah, you never know. You never know. Last year was crazy. But this year it's going to be beautiful. Today couldn't have been a better day."
Hahn took advantage of the friendly conditions Thursday. "Course is in great shape," said the 31-year-old former Cal player, who was born in South Korea and now lives in Southern California. "Fairways immaculate. The greens are rolling pure. You hit a good putt on the right line at the right speed it's going to go in."
Next up with 64s were Aussie Greg Chalmers and Doug LaBelle (Nicklaus), Aaron Baddeley (Palmer), and last week's winner in the Sony Open, Russell Henley.
Henley, a rookie from Georgia, was victorious at the Sony in his first-ever Tour event. Starting on the back nine on the Nicklaus course, the 23-year-old posted five birdies and a bogey on his front nine then added two more birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fourth (his 13th hole) coming home.
Henley told reporters that he managed to come down off his high from last Sunday before the start of the Humana Challenge. "I've gotten some good rest the last few nights, so I felt pretty good today physically and I made some par putts when I had to and I'm feeling very confident," said the former Georgia Bulldog All-American. "I definitely wasn't going to be upset either way. I feel like of how my score went, I think that that's the last thing I want to do is waste any energy and be emotional right now.
"I think I got to conserve all my emotions and energy as much as I can. So I can play a full, another full golf tournament. And stutter a little bit more," he added to laughter. "So that's what I'm focused on right now."
A host of players posted 65s. Shooting that number on the Nicklaus course were Jeff Maggert, Daniel Summerhays, Michael Bradley, Charley Hoffman, Cameron Tringale, Jerry Kelly and Patrick Cantlay. At Palmer, Ryan Palmer shot a 65, a score matched by Ricky Barnes at La Quinta.
"My game's gotten a lot better the last year and a half," said the 48-year-old Maggert. "I had shoulder surgery a year and a half ago and just feeling really healthy right now, so I would like to stay out here and play a few more years if I can. And obviously if I can finish in the top 125 on the money list, that's kind of a bonus, and if I can keep my Tour card out here and then maybe play little bit on the Champions Tour as well that would be a good plan."
Kelly, another veteran, was also pleased with his start. "It's nice to get some birdies under my belt. I struck the ball really well today," noted the 46-year-old. "Didn't go too good on the last hole (a par-4 he bogeyed). I thought I was in, apparently it was down. It had a couple shifts of wind, but not enough to miss it that bad. It just got away from me."
Twelve players fired 6-under 66s, while 19 had 67s. Among those opening with a 67 is Canada's Mike Weir, who won the tournament in 2003. "It's good," said the 44-year-old, who's endured several rough years, with his last Tour victory coming in the 2007 Fry's Electronics Open.
"I've done it before here, I know how I've won here, so I know that if you play a good round here you set yourself up for a good position," Weir added. "So we're only on three golf courses this year, so you get a little feel for the Nicklaus and then the Palmer Course. So, yeah, I feel like I got off to great start and will keep building on it."
Phil Mickelson, making his 2013 debut but fighting flu-like symptoms for over a week, opened with a 72 at La Quinta. "I haven't been able to work as I have going into the season," Mickelson said on Monday. "Maybe that will be a good thing. In the off-season, I had a couple of breakthroughs with my putting and driving. I'm really excited to start the year."
Defending champion, the usually steady Mark Wilson who finished at 24-under 264 last year, posted an uncharacteristic 5-over 77 at La Quinta CC and is in danger of missing the weekend cut. The 38-year-old from Wisconsin had two doubles and two birdies on the front nine and three bogeys on the back.
For all the scoring details, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html.