Walker leads by two after one at ShellHUMBLE, Texas – Jimmy Walker is off to the best start of his PGA Tour career, having finished in the top-10 three times in eight starts this season. The trend continued on Thursday as Walker opened with a course-record tying 9-under par 63 at the Shell Houston Open, good enough to lead by two over Nick O’Hern and Josh Teater.
“I putted just so good (Thursday),” Walker said of his work on the greens. “It was pretty amazing. I made a lot of putts. It seemed like every birdie putt kind of went in. I had one little tester for par that went in, too. I just putted really good. Hit a lot of good wedge shots pretty close and gave myself some chances, you know, early.”
O’Hern had ACL reconstruction surgery on his right knee last year after snapping it about 20 years ago. Wear and tear helped him determine it was time to get it fixed. At the same time he decided to have his left knee done. The package deal, having them both done, left him out of action for eight months.
“I think my last event last year was Sawgrass,” O’Hern said. “My first event this year was Bob Hope. Fair bit of time off. I played a couple back in Australia in between. But, you know, on this Tour if you're not on the top of your game, you're going to be left behind. That's probably what I found out the first few months of the season.
“ I was hoping to get back on the horse a little quicker than I have,” he added. “I missed a few cuts, but I found the last few weeks, my game is starting to really come round. I've done some good work on the range, and, you know, the mind is in a better place than what it has been in the past. You add all those things up, I think some good golf is on the horizon.”
Chris Kirk had a bogey-free round until he found the water at the 18th and couldn’t save par from 27 feet. At 6-under he is alone in fourth followed by the quartet of Steve Stricker, John Rollins, Nathan Green and Brendan Steele.
Stricker, making only his second start since the end of February, compared the greens at the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course to the practice green he has in his basement at home in Wisconsin.
“ Actually, you know, my carpet there's no imperfections,” said Stricker. “It rolls perfect. These greens are just like my carpet. I mean, they're so good. The speed is pretty similar, too. Mine may be a touch slower, but it's pretty quick and, you know, it's just getting the feel. Putting longer putts. I can't maybe putt a 20-footer at home. Out here I got to do some lag putting from 30, 40 feet just to get the feel.
“ I don't spend a lot of time putting at home, so that's why I spend a lot of time when I come out here, too. Every once in a while, I'll go and practice, take the kids down there and do whatever in the basement. That's why I practice hard when I get out.”
While players are chasing a trophy and the nice check that goes along with it here in Texas, it is easy for their minds to wander to next week and the Masters Tournament. Thirty-two players in the field will be playing at Augusta next week, and count Stricker among those taking at least a peek ahead.
“I feel like I'm even on edge a little bit thinking about next week and a little uneasy,” Stricker said. “You're trying to figure out where your game is at. You know, for me I'm kind of cramming, you know, trying to play this week, see where I'm at, you know, see what I need to work on, see what's doing -- see what I'm doing well, but you always have that in the back of your mind. It's a good test here this week, too. There's a lot of water. It makes you focus. The greens are quick like next week, so there's some similarities there that help you prepare for next week as well.”
The reality is, players start thinking about Augusta as soon as they finish at the PGA Championship because it is the next major. Now, with the start less than a week away, it is no surprise at all that it is heavy on their minds, like it or not.
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