Alex Noren and Webb Simpson share the Honda Classic lead at 4 under after Round 1 at PGA National. Their dueling 66s were even more impressive than they sound as players fought all day against a heavy (and at times, swirling) wind. The scoring average ended at close to 73, and those two were nearly seven strokes better than that.
On their heels are likely some names you recognize. Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen and Daniel Berger are one back. Thomas Pieters and J.B. Holmes are three back. and Tommy Fleetwood are four back following even-par 70s over the first 18 holes.
I love how the PGA Tour schedule delivers us Riviera Country Club and PGA National in back-to-back weeks. Two difficult-to-navigate courses that often produce huge winners. Who knows if that will be the case again at the Honda Classic week, but an eventful Round 1 brought us five takeaways as we hurtle toward the weekend.
1. Great wind players: My buddy Sean Martin told me he took Noren to win this week because of his ball flight into the wind. It's not every week that you make a selection on who's going to win the golf tournament based on who hits irons well into the wind, but he's not wrong. In Tiger Woods' post-round press conference, he said some variation of the word wind 11 times. It was a monumental problem for players on Thursday, not only off the tee and in the fairway, but on the greens as well. And it will likely be that way for the rest of the week.
2. Young American duel? Partners Thomas and Berger (playing with Sergio Garcia) were fabulous on Thursday. They combined for just three bogeys (all from Thomas) and had nine birdies. However, they did get into a bit of trouble at one point during the round, which was reminiscent of another American star.
"It was a fun group. I love playing with Sergio, too," Thomas said. "The three of us had a good time out there. Obviously Sergio didn't play as well, but yeah, Berger and I have been good buddies and battling it out for a while. It would be fun to keep it going for a couple of days and be doing the same on Sunday."
3. One hole, any hole: This course can unwind you in a hurry. Adam Scott made a double at the 15th and then a triple at the 17th to go from inside the top 10 to on the cutline in about 25 minutes. Rory McIlroy looked to be cruising to an even-par 70 before he hit one in the water on No. 18 and stumbled to a 2-over 72. It's tough to watch (see Scott's face below), but it also makes for an intriguing tournament because on Sunday, when the chips are down, pretty much anything can happen.
4. Tiger is in the mix:, but Woods was terrific on Thursday. He said it was his best ball-striking day of the season and that he's starting to get his feels back.
"Yeah, I feel like I'm really not that far away," Woods said. "I'm starting to really get a feel for scoring again and scoring in tournaments, and today was a day that I'm very proud of because I missed the ball in the correct spots. I didn't do that in L.A., hit the ball in the wrong spots and consequently, I was down the road after two days."
It's not difficult to see him dropping consecutive 70s and in, say, the fifth-to-last group on Saturday. Wouldn't that be something special.
5. Love tough courses: This might be a steamy take, but I enjoyed the semi-carnage on Thursday. It wasn't exactly a U.S. Open, but you have to hit every shot solidly, or you have no chance to contend (Kevin Kisner gained strokes on the field with his putter and shot a 79). This is as testy as a tournament gets outside of major championships (Woods compared it to The Open on Thursday), and it's sort of enjoyable to see great players frustrated and good ones come undone. I don't need it every week, but for 72 holes, it's a riveting visceral experience.
Today is on pace to be the toughest opening round in a non-major on the PGA Tour since the 2015 Valero Texas Open.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) February 22, 2018
With only slightly less winds expected tomorrow we could see a really high cut score somewhere around +6— Fried Egg Paulie (@friedeggpaulie) February 22, 2018
Below are a few other notes from Round 1 at PGA National. If you are having trouble viewing the blog, please click here.
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