NAPA, Calif. (AP) — The Ryder Cup was two weeks ago. The Tour Championship was only a month ago. Both events that ended a long year on the PGA Tour were only for the elite few. Many others came to the Frys.com Open for a new season fresh and ready to go.
Martin Laird was a prime example at Silverado, as were a pair of rookies.
Laird went back to his old coach in the summer and was making headway when he narrowly missed out on the FedEx Cup playoffs, which gave him seven weeks away from golf. He returned at the Frys.com Open with two straight rounds of 5-under 67 to take a one-shot lead into the weekend.
“You never know how you’re going to play after seven weeks off like I had,” Laird said Friday after making four straight birdies around the turn to take the lead. “Just to come out and put back-to-back 67s up and play very solid — very solid 67s — I’m extremely happy.”
He was one shot ahead of Bae Sang-moon, who made all three of his birdies on the par 5s for a 69; and Zach Blair, one of the 20 rookies in the field at Silverado.
Blair didn’t even think he would be on tour a couple of weeks ago. He missed every cut during the Web.com Tour Finals until the final event in Florida, when he tied the course record on the Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass with a 63 and finished second to earn his card.
In his first start, he put together rounds of 69-66 and was in the second-to-last group going into the weekend.
“I was in the last group today,” Blair said, referring to rookies and players with the least amount of status getting either the first or last tee times ahead of the cut. “So yeah, I pulled the pins today. It would be nice to say there.”
And then there was Mark Hubbard, who was all smiles Friday evening for all the right reasons.
Hubbard played at San Jose State, and the Spartans have connections with the Frys.com Open organizers, which are based not far from San Jose. He qualified last year at CordeValle, and he’s no stranger to Silverado.
After a solid start with a 69, Hubbard was having another good day when his prospects improved mightily in the final few holes. He had a hole-in-one at No. 7, and then nearly holed out from the fairway on No. 8 for a tap-in birdie. He missed a short birdie attempt on his final hole, but by then he was in no mood to complain. Hubbard would up with a 65, the best score of the week, and was only two shots out of the lead.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “Fifth hole-in-one ever, only second in actual competition. I had a couple in qualifying for college, but to have it in my first PGA event as a PGA member is pretty cool.”
The season opener on the PGA Tour had a little for everyone.
Laird was at 10-under 134, confident in his swing and particularly pleased that all the work on his short game the last month paid off so nicely. His round ended with a wedge from the first cut of rough that set up a tap-in birdie, his 11th of the week.
Hubbard was in a group that included David Lingmerth (68) and Scott Langley, whose wife recently gave birth to their first child. Langley holed a bunker shot on his way to a 66 that put him at 8-under 136.
Hideki Matsuyama looked strong in his 67 and was three behind. In the group four shots behind were Brooks Koepka (70) and Hunter Mahan, one of four Ryder Cup players at Silverado, all of whom made the cut.
Matt Kuchar, like Mahan, had a 68. He was five shots behind. Not to be forgotten was Jimmy Walker, who opened with a 75 only to bounce back with eight birdies in his round of 66. He was still seven shots behind, but still playing.
Lee Westwood had a 69 in the morning and was eight shots behind.
Silverado hadn’t hosted a PGA Tour event since 1980, and it appeared the players were starting to figure out how to navigate the tight, winding fairways and small greens that are all about being on the right side of the hole.
There were 13 rounds at 67 or better, compared with only three in the opening round.
The next test is the weekend, where the stakes get a little higher. It’s a new experience for the rookies, and they sounded eager to see what they could do.
“I’m excited,” Hubbard said. “Nothing really changes, just keep to your game plan. It’s definitely very cool to be in the mix and in this tournament. I mean, if I could pick one tournament this fall season that I’d like to win, it would be this one just because I’m a local boy in San Jose.”
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