The annual birdie-fest formally known as the Humana Challenge got underway Thursday under ideal scoring conditions. Here’s the skinny on a predictably low Round 1 in the California desert:
The leaderboard: Patrick Reed (-9); Ryan Palmer, Justin Hicks, Charley Hoffman and Daniel Summerhays at -8; Zach Johnson, Bill Haas, Matt Every, Charlie Wi, Russell Knox and Hudson Swafford at -7
What it means: Reed positioned himself for his second career title (2013 Wyndham) with a flawless 63 in the lid-lifter on the Palmer Private, the easiest of the three courses. The 63 matched his career low on the PGA Tour. He’s going to need to keep pouring in birdies if he’s to stay ahead of the pack, however. Seventeen players shot 66 or better on Day 1.
Round of the day: Starting on the back nine, Reed made five birdies in a row around the turn (Nos. 16, 17, 18, 1, 2) around the turn to soar up the leaderboard. He pulled ahead of the pack with birdies on Nos. 6 and 7. It’s his first-ever first-round lead. Since he won at the Wyndham, he hasn’t finished better than 16th in seven starts.
Best of the rest: Ryan Palmer came home in 7-under 29, including six straight birdies to close, to post 64. Johnson, meanwhile, stayed red-hot by posting a bogey-free 65 at La Quinta. He has three wins in his last seven starts. In the fall, Charlie Wi sat out seven weeks because of a torn ligament in his thumb. He shot 65 Thursday.
Biggest disappointment: Brandt Snedeker managed only two birdies during an even-par 72 Thursday at La Quinta and sits nine shots back after Round 1. Billy Horschel's week got off to a bad start with a quadruple bogey on the fifth hole. He is well back after Thursday's round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Who is going to go low? Every player at the Humana knows it’s going to take birdies – lots of them – to win. Last year, Brian Gay made 27 birdies and still found himself in a three-way playoff. Since 2008, the eventual winner has had at least one round of 64 or better on his way to victory. The three courses used at this tournament were the easiest on Tour in 2013.
Shot of the day: Webb Simpson hit his 5-iron tee shot on the 203-yard 12th hole (Palmer Private) to a foot, leading to a tap-in birdie. Even more impressive was his tee ball on the 16th – to 3 inches. Entering this week with five consecutive top-7 finishes, Simpson shot 69 in the opening round.
Quote of the day: “Whenever I was on the green, it was one of those days where everything I read was the right line and I hit the line every time. I got hot with the putter, and when any guy out here gets hot with the putter they’re going to go shoot a low number.” – Reed