SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Brandishing a hot putter on a warm afternoon, Australian Nick O’Hern cruised to a career-low 63 and the first-round lead in the Frys.com Open on Thursday.
O’Hern, who finished at 7 under, putted only nine times while posting a 28 on the par-35 back nine at Grayhawk Golf Club. Eight of O’Hern’s nine birdies came in that stretch.
“Pretty scary,” O’Hern said. “I’ve never done that before. I was pretty happy.”
Bob Heintz and Heath Slocum were a stroke back at 64, and D.A. Points, Rory Sabbatini, Greg Owen and Rickie Fowler shot 65s.
Fred Couples, who captained the United States to victory in the Presidents Cup earlier this month, shot a 67 in his first tour round in seven weeks.
With little wind on an 82-degree day in the desert, scores fell as players attacked Grayhawk’s Raptor Course.
Scores may keep dropping for the rest of the week. Temperatures are expected to reach the high 80s in each of the final three rounds.
“It’s like playing indoors,” said Paul Goydos, who shot a 66 to finish in a 15-way tie for eighth place. “The weather is too good. I would expect you’re going to see a pretty bunched leaderboard all week.”
Indeed, O’Hern had to shoot the round of his life to eke out a one-stroke lead.
O’Hern may best be known as the first player to beat Tiger Woods twice in match play as a professional. The short-hitting lefty from Australian beat the world’s No. 1 in the Accenture Match Play Championship in 2005 and in 2007, and fans haven’t forgotten.
“A lot of people don’t know my name,” O’Hern said. “Hey, that’s the guy that beat Tiger twice.”
O’Hern probably could have taken Woods down again on Thursday – at least on the back nine.
O’Hern hit the turn at even par, then caught fire. He birdied six straight holes before bogeying the par-3 16th when his tee shot rolled off the bank of the green and into the water.
“It wasn’t actually a bad shot, but the result was bad,” O’Hern said.
He recovered to birdie the final two holes.
His longest putts were a 48-footer on the par-4 12th and a 20-footer on the par-4 17th.
O’Hern has never won a PGA Tour event, and he missed the cut in nine of his first 25 tournaments this year. O’Hern struggled to bounce back from offseason surgery on his left thumb and his right knee.
“That kind of held my progress back at the start of the year,” O’Hern said. “I had a bit of a late start.”
Heintz, also winless on the Tour, missed the cut in eight of his first 18 starts this year.
Heintz professed not to know that he was 171st on the money list – and it’s not because he struggles with numbers. Heintz graduated from Yale with a degree in economics in 1992.
“If I was over $1 million, I would look at it every day and smile,” Heintz said. “But you know, when you’re where I am, I don’t think it really helps you to.”
The Frys.com Open has a $5 million purse, with the winner taking home $900,000.
Couples said he decided to play in the tournament partly because his girlfriend, Julie, lives in the area, and also because it wasn’t far from his home in Palm Springs.
“My whole thought process was just, I live four hours from here in Palm Springs, I might as well drive over here and play,” Couples said.
Thursday’s round was Couples’ first tour appearance since he missed the cut in the Deutsche Bank Championship in September.
Couples wasn’t sure how he’d shoot after the long layoff, but he birdied five holes in a six-hole stretch to play his way into contention.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with my round today,” Couples said. “I have a shot at playing better than I thought going into Friday.”