HONOLULU – Davis Love III birdied his last hole for a bogey-free 5-under 65 that put him into an early four-way tie for the lead with defending champion Zach Johnson, Ryan Palmer and U.S. PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt at the Sony Open on Thursday.
“It’s a nice way to start the year,” Love said.
The relative calm on Oahu during practice rounds gave way to swaying of palm trees at sunrise along the shores of Waikiki, providing tough conditions for the morning.
Johnson, playing in the same group with Love, made seven birdies over his final 11 holes to join him atop the leaderboard.
Johnson had no idea that he inspired another player to get off to a calm start. Palmer was looking for something to read earlier in the week when he came across an article about Johnson that dealt with taking golf one day at a time. He didn’t look at leaderboards or worry about the weekend until he signed for his 65.
“Best start in my seven-year career,” Palmer said.
The biggest surprise was Merritt, one of four players in his first PGA Tour event.
Merritt played alongside 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, who brought loads of expectations into his rookie season. But it was Merritt who shined, plodding his way along and finishing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to join the leaders.
Fowler opened with a three-putt double bogey from 8 feet and wound up with a 75.
Masters champion Angel Cabrera hit wedge into the par-5 ninth, with a strong breeze at his back, and finished with a birdie to join the group at 68 that included Pat Perez.
Love again needs another big start to the year to get into the Masters. He played so much last year that he felt like he was spinning his wheels, and the end came after he withdrew at Disney World after one round.
Then he went two months without competing, the last month without even feeling grass under his feet. He couldn’t wait to play, so after checking into the hotel at Waialae on Sunday, he rushed out to the 11th green in twilight and began putting.
Of all the practicing he did in his garage, it was his putting that left him curious. Love, however, decided to give each putt one read and hit it like it was a pro-am round, and he was pleasantly surprised to see so many of them go in.
“I was optimistic,” Love said. “But I was anxious about competing. Once I got it going, once I got under par … I’ve been out here a long time. You don’t forget.”