Rookie Grabs Early Lead in New Orleans

By Associated PressApril 19, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Zurich ClassicAVONDALE, La. -- Never heard of Kyle Reifers?
Neither had numerous people in the gallery in the opening round of the Zurich Classic, whom Reifers could hear mispronouncing his name.
Teeing off for only his eighth time on the PGA TOUR, Reifers (pronounced RYE-furs, for future reference) shot a course-record 8-under 64 on the 7,341-yard TPC Louisiana on Thursday, giving him a two-shot lead.
His closest challenger was seasoned pro and 1989 British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia, who shot a 66. Calcavecchia acknowledged that even he did not know much about the man he was chasing.
'I know what he looks like,' Calcavecchia said. 'I've introduced myself to him.'
Tim Petrovic, who won the only other PGA TOUR event held on this course in 2005, finished his round in a four-way tie for fourth at 67, along with Lucas Glover, Jason Schultz and Tom Johnson.
The PGA TOUR stop in New Orleans has a way of bringing out the best in guys who've never won on the TOUR. And if Reifers keeps this up, he'd become the fifth TOUR pro to take his first victory in New Orleans in the last six years.
The freckle-faced rookie, thick red hair curling out from under the sides and back of his baseball cap, emerged from the scoring tent having no idea he had just broken the course record of 65, set in 2005 by Chris DiMarco and Arjun Atwal.
'That's the least of my worries,' Reifers said. 'It doesn't really mean much to me right now. ... At the end of the week, hopefully it will mean a lot.'
Reifers barely emerged from last year's PGA TOUR qualifying tournament with his tour card for 2007, making an 18-foot putt in the final stage to tie for 29th. No one who finished worse qualified for this year's TOUR.
At the same time, it's not as if he came out of nowhere. The Wake Forest graduate finished second in the 2006 NCAA championship, then turned pro immediately, winning a Tar Heel Tour event in Charlotte, N.C., the next week. One week after that, he won his first Nationwide Tour event at Chattanooga, Tenn., where he also set a course record with a 61 on the final round and sank a 15-foot put to win in a playoff hole.
This year, he has entered six prior events, making the cut in three of them and cracking the top 25 only once, when he tied for 12th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando a month ago.
Thursday night marked the first time he would try to fall asleep knowing he was in the lead of a PGA TOUR event.
'I'm more happy than nervous,' Reifers said. 'That's a good problem. It means your playing well.'
Chris Couch, who won last year, was eight shots behind. Couch won at English Turn, which was supposed to have seen its last event in 2004, but had to host it once again after Hurricane Katrina blew down about 2,000 trees and swamped several fairways at the TPC Louisiana, which closed for 10 months after the storm.
After about $2 million in repairs to about 30 acres of turf and the planting of about 300 trees, the TPC Louisiana reopened last July and now is hosting its second event.
It is a distinctive, Pete Dye-designed course carved out of a cypress swamp a few miles southwest of New Orleans. It's loaded with fairway obstacles that included steep 'pot' bunkers, isolated trees hanging over the edges of fairways and water hazards. Reifers saw it for the first time in the one practice round he played before Thursday's first round.
But earlier in the week, he had spoken by phone with his former Walker Cup captain, Bob Lewis Jr., who discussed how he might lower his score with a more conservative strategy on longer holes.
Reifers birdied three of the course's four par 5s.
'I played them a little more conservatively but played my angles a lot better and gave myself a lot of good looks,' Reifers said. 'I can kind of feel my game coming around.'
Reifers birdied eight holes and had no bogeys. On the ninth hole -- a 210-yard par 3 with a distinctive bulkhead of cypress planks rising from a water hazard on the left side of the green -- he hit a 6-iron about 3 feet to set up a birdie.
On the par-4 15th, he made a 25-foot birdie putt.
The gallery, small as it was, seemed impressed. Yet, his relative obscurity was clear when he walked from the 18th hole past the clubhouse, course record in the books, and not a single fan waited by the ropes to ask for his autograph.
As he spoke with reporters, the Columbus, Ohio-native wasn't too interested in promoting himself. He had other ideas about garnering more fanfare.
'Hopefully, I'll let my clubs do the talking,' he said.
Boo Weekley, a first-time winner Monday in Hilton Head, S.C., said he was tired after a spike in media appearances this week -- and it showed. His double-bogey on the 18th hole concluded a round of 5-over-par that had the affable, tobacco-chewing Southerner saying, 'I need a hug,' to a course marshal he recognized on the 17th tee. ... Several players wore maroon Virginia Tech caps in a show of solidarity with the university reeling from the murder of 32 people earlier this week. Johnson Wagner, who shot a 73, was among them. Having graduated from Tech, he also wore a bright orange Virginia Tech shirt, a school pin and had the university's trademark 'VT' sewn onto his golf bag. Charley Hoffman, who was in the top 10 at 68, had no connection to Virginia Tech but wore the hat nonetheless. 'Obviously I don't know anybody there being from the West Coast, but just to show support to them all of the country I think is needed.' ... David Toms, a past winner in New Orleans and Louisiana native who is popular with the local crowd, was among more than a dozen players tied for 14th at 3-under. 'I just had a good, solid day, nothing fantastic, and I'm right in the tournament,' Toms said. ... Nu-Lite Electrical, a local company that has seen booming business during the rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, donated $76,000 to a new charity called Birdies for Books, which is helping to replace books at school libraries damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The company also paid $14,000 for a skybox over the 17th green that was reserved for emergency workers who had worked in the area in the wake of the 2005 storm.
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