HONOLULU – Davis Love III has not played a tournament in two months. Robert Allenby probably should not have played at all. And then there was Troy Merritt, who had never played a PGA Tour event in his life until Thursday in the Sony Open.
They were among six players tied for the lead on a windy day at Waialae that swept into all sorts of possibilities.
The first full-field event of the PGA Tour season produced quite the log jam, with Allenby and his severely twisted ankle and John Merrick the latest to join the fray at 5-under 65.
The other two were defending champion Zach Johnson and Ryan Palmer, linked in a peculiar way. Johnson is a big believer in taking one day at a time. Palmer read about Johnson’s tenet in the tournament program while looking for something to read, and it inspired him.
When the sun finally disappeared along the shores of Waikiki, everyone had a story. They also had company, for 10 other players found themselves only one shot behind at 66.
Even more surprising is that so many low scores came on a day of swaying palm trees from wind so strong that Masters champion Angel Cabrera, among those at 66, reached the 498-yard ninth hole with a wedge, and Pat Perez hit a 7-iron out of the rough from 210 yards on the tough opening hole.
Perhaps the best indication that this would be a strange day came from a standardbearer.
Merritt, a 24-year-old from Boise State, was walking down the third fairway Thursday morning when someone pointed out that the wrong name was on the hand-held scoring sign. It said Merrick.
Their names sound the same and are almost spelled the same.
“We have lockers right next to each other,” Merrick said. “Probably will all year.”
It was only fitting they wound up with the same score.
The round was almost complete. Tom Gillis had a 25-foot eagle putt on his final hole when he decided it was too dark to continue. He will return Friday morning to putt, then start his second round.
Indeed, this was a peculiar start for the first full-field event to the season.
It started with Love, who had not felt grass under his feet for the last month. It was either so cold along the Georgia coastline that he was hitting balls into a net in his garage, or he was in Idaho for a winter vacation.
No sooner had he checked into his hotel Saturday night, Love raced out to the 11th green to get onto a golf course, and he putted until he could no longer see the hole. The way he putted on Thursday, he didn’t need to see it.
Love played bogey-free and was among the first to post a 65.
“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.”
Merritt lingered, even if no one knew who he was. He was playing alongside 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, whom everyone seems to know, yet it was Merritt who provided the pure shots and the timely putting. Merritt had told his fiancee he would be thrilled with 3-under par, and one can imagine how he felt when he birdied his last hole for a 65.
“Things went way better than I thought,” Merritt said.
Allenby was the only player at Waialae who arrived with a winning streak. He won in the Nedbank Challenge, then the Australian PGA, and was going for a walk with his wife, Sandy, when he took a bad step off a curb and twisted his ankle.
The Australian wasn’t sure he could play and might have left any other tournament. Then again, he flew 12 hours from Florida and didn’t much feel like turning around.
“And the weather is better,” Allenby said.
He played gingerly on the taped right ankle, however, and had a hard time hitting a fade. That didn’t keep him from firing a 4-iron at the flag on the tough par-3 fourth for a birdie.
“My putting was the best part of the day,” Allenby said. “I did hit some good shots, but my putting was good. It’s the same as I left off last year.”