HUMBLE, Texas – Johnson Wagner came to the Shell Houston Open in desperate need of a spark.
The veteran had missed the cut in all six of his starts this year. He hadn’t played a final round since the RSM Classic in November.
For Wagner, though, it’s a familiar position entering what he described as his favorite event. Back in 2008, he came to Houston on a run of eight starts that included six missed cuts, a T-78 finish and a T-64 finish. He left with the trophy after his first PGA Tour win.
Last year, it was more of the same. Wagner hadn’t cracked the top 50 in his four starts prior to this event, but he played his way into a playoff. That runner-up finish was a big reason why he kept his card.
It all means that Wagner’s bogey-free 66 on Thursday was surprising, but perhaps not that surprising given his affinity for the event and its ability to bring a quick end to his slumps.
“I just have a love affair with this event, and with Houston and the Houston Golf Association,” said Wagner, who trails Dustin Johnson and Roberto Castro by a shot. “It’s more the city - I just love being here.”
Even Wagner, though, was a bit taken aback by his opening-round performance given his play Wednesday in the pro-am. Grouped with former pitcher Roger Clemens and former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, Wagner estimated that he shot a 44 on the front nine – and barely avoided an embarrassing situation.
“I started the day with four balls in my bag for the pro-am, which is usually plenty,” he said. “I think I lost balls on [Nos.] 4, 5 and 6, and I had one left. Jordan Spieth was in front of us, and my caddie, Matt, actually ran over on the seventh tee to the eighth tee and grabbed a sleeve of balls from Jordan Spieth, thankfully, to finish the round.”
With his equipment inventory issue resolved, Wagner took a few swing videos during the back nine and spotted an issue in his swing. The minor tweak he made has already paid off.
“Kind of fixed it on the fly, and good session yesterday on the range,” he said. “Yeah, it was all good today.”