NAPA, Calif. (AP) — In his short week at home, Hunter Mahan put in a couple of three-hour sessions on the range to make sure his game was sharp and he carried some momentum from the Ryder Cup into the season opener on the PGA Tour.
Of course, that was only 10 days ago.
The Frys.com Open presented a seamless start to the new season, especially for the small group of players who can’t tell the difference between old and new.
Mahan opened with a 2-under 70 and was four shots out of the lead held by Bae Sang-moon and Andres Gonzales. This is Mahan’s 10th tournament in the last 13 weeks, dating to the British Open in the middle of July.
Matt Kuchar would have kept the same schedule, except that he had to withdraw from the PGA Championship with back pain. Kuchar and Mahan played in the feature group Thursday morning with their Ryder Cup teammate, Jimmy Walker, who is the defending champion. Walker picked up his first PGA Tour victory at this event, and it’s hard to tell if that felt like last year or this year.
And then there’s Brooks Koepka, who last week was in Scotland for the Dunhill Links Championship, which begins the finishing kick on the European Tour even though the American is starting his first PGA Tour season as a card-carrying member.
He finished his opening round of 68 — which included a tee shot out-of-bounds — and realized it was 2 a.m. in Scotland.
“I’m pretty tired right now,” Koepka said.
It’s a long year, and it’s only getting started.
Gonzales could not have asked for a better way to start his season. He is back on the PGA Tour for the third time, with a goal of staying there. He lost his card the other two seasons, but he opened with a bogey-free round of 66.
Bae joined him in the lead with a birdie on the final hole in the afternoon. They were one shot ahead of Martin Laird, with Koepka and rookie Jon Curran in the large group at 68. Justin Thomas, another rookie, was at 4 under until a bogey on the par-5 18th put him in the group at 69.
Only two dozen players managed to shoot in the 60s on the North Course at Silverado, which looked to be there for the taking. The greens are receptive. The wind was only a rumor most of the day. But there is enough of a penalty in the rough, enough bends in the tree-line fairways and enough contour on the greens to make it difficult to score.
“These greens are tough,” Kuchar said after his 71. “You can hit it to 6 or 7 feet and you think it’s a good approach, and then you’re looking for a two-putt. Leaving yourself in the right place is critical, but difficult to do.”
Walker opened with a 75, a round that went the wrong way at the end. He missed a 5-foot birdie putt from above the hole that he barely tapped. An 18-foot birdie attempt defied gravity on the right edge of the cup. And he missed a 3-foot par putt.
The tour is in its second year of a wraparound season that starts in October and ends with the Tour Championship in September, and it’s still hard to digest that everyone is starting over at Silverado.
“It’s already a new year and Santa hasn’t even come yet,” Stuart Appleby said after a 69. “I’ve just had a month off. I don’t know what happened to it, where it went.”
The tour put the three American Ryder Cup players together, and it felt like old times when Andy Sanders, Walker’s caddie, wore a Ryder Cup jacket to fight the chill.
“We were giving him a hard time for not letting it go,” Kuchar said.
In some ways, it was therapeutic to get back on the course, even though it was a change from playing before a gallery that stood 10-deep along the fairways to a gallery that could see across several fairways.
Kuchar compared it with going from the Masters to Hilton Head.
He played his first Ryder Cup in 2010 at Wales, and he teed it up at the McGladrey Classic three days after he got home.
“I found it nice to get back out and play and be able to move on,” he said.
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