NAPA, Calif. (AP) – The new PGA Tour season felt like an old one to a trio of Ryder Cup players Thursday at the Frys.com Open.READ MORE: Dozens Of Homes Were Evacuated Due To Wildfire In Central Texas
Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker met on the 10th tee at Silverado. With a morning chill in the air and beautiful scenery of Napa Valley, it was vaguely similar to the rolling hills of Gleneagles just two weeks ago at the Ryder Cup.
Except that no one was singing. There was hardly anyone in the grandstand, or on the golf course.
“It’s a little strange off the tee when no one is really here at 7:45,” Mahan said after opening with a 2-under 70, leaving him four shots out of the lead. “And out there at 7, everyone is singing along and the party is already started.”
It was back to normal for those three Americans, along with Lee Westwood of England, who made two late birdies to salvage a 73.
And it was another chance for Andres Gonzalez, who made it back to the PGA Tour for the third time. He has yet to keep his card, and while this was only the first round of the new wraparound season, he was plenty happy with no bogeys on his card and a 6-under 66.
Bae Sang-moon made seven birdies in the afternoon and joined Gonzalez at 66. They were a shot ahead of Martin Laird. Brooks Koepka was in a large group at 68.
The star attraction at the Frys.com Open was the Ryder Cup trio, and there were about 500 people tagging along by the end of their round. The par-5 ninth summed up the round for each of them.
Mahan lagged perfectly from 75 feet for a two-putt birdie. Kuchar showed off a sharp short game, and his pitch from short of the green struck the pin and settled about a foot away. He shot 71. Walker thought his full wedge was perfect until it took a hard hop and landed in a gnarly spot in the rough, leading to a bogey and a 75.
Most of them would have preferred at least another week off.
Walker is defending a title for the first time in his career. Mahan and Kuchar are at the Frys.com Open as part of a deal with the PGA Tour for letting them play an exhibition in Turkey two years ago. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy also were supposed to play this year until they deferred, McIlroy because he was wiped out from a busy summer of winning back-to-back majors, Woods while he tries to regain his explosiveness from back surgery earlier in the year.
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.”READ MORE: Greenhill Seniors Lee Dort And Noah Shelby To Continue Unique Bond At Vanderbilt University
Mahan knows the feeling better than anyone. This is his 10th event in the last 13 weeks, dating to the British Open. He did not play the Wyndham Championship, and he had a week off before and after the Ryder Cup.
“I haven’t taken more than five days off,” Mahan said. “It’s always weird to say, ‘Five days off’ because people work for a living. I thought I was going to play really, really good. And then I was playing yesterday and it was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t read another putt. I’m so tired of it.’ But I feel good about coming in here and putting my energy in the right place.”
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.
It was a little easier to move on considering that the Ryder Cup wasn’t terribly close. Europe built a 10-6 lead going into the final day at Gleneagles, and while there was an early surge of American red on the board, the outcome was never really in doubt.
Walker kept pace with his teammates until he missed a variety of putts — a 5-footer for birdie that he barely tapped, a 15-footer that defied gravity on the right edge of the cup and a 3-foot par putt that he missed on No. 5, perhaps distracted by the sound of the group ahead teeing off on the next hole when he struck his putt.
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