ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Matt Kuchar couldn’t stifle a yawn when he walked out of the scoring trailer. Zach Johnson couldn’t remember which side of the Atlantic Ocean he was on, except for the warm sunshine at Sea Island.
Two days after they returned from long, wet week at the Ryder Cup, the opening round of the new McGladrey Classic was a blur.
“I think I was too relaxed to be nervous,” Kuchar said.
That wasn’t the case for John Rollins.
Motivated by a pep talk from his wife and a meltdown that knocked him out of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Rollins kept bogeys off his card and opened with a 7-under 63 for his best round of the year and a one-shot lead over David Toms and rookie Troy Merritt.
Rollins birdied four straight holes late his round, starting with the tight 14th along St. Simons Sound and ending with a 6-iron to 3 feet on the par-3 17th. Nearly half the field broke par in gorgeous weather along the Georgia coast, a flawless start to a tournament making its debut in the Fall Series.
Kuchar and Johnson ordinarily wouldn’t play the week after the Ryder Cup, except that they live at Sea Island. Kuchar just moved to this picturesque piece of land known as the Golden Isles, and slept in his home for the first time Wednesday night.
Getting over a Ryder Cup hangover might take longer than that.
There could not be two weeks any different for those who were in Wales last week, which includes tournament host Davis Love III, a vice captain at the Ryder Cup.
Sunshine was abundant. And except for about 400 people following Love, Kuchar and Johnson, it was relatively quiet.
“Definitely an intimate feeling,” said Love, who opened with a 70.
Kuchar, who leads the PGA Tour money list and is closing in on the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, moved about the Seaside Course easily and was challenging for the lead until his drive on the par-4 16th came up about a yard short of clearing the creek, leading to a double bogey. He still managed a 67, though he’s not sure how.
“There were a number of times today I waned to reach down and mark my ball,” he said, referring to preferred lies in effect last week at Celtic Manor Resort because of the waterlogged course.
As for the difference in weather.
“I’m glad I live here,” Kuchar said.
Johnson also was groggy, although he gave himself enough chances to shoot a 70.
“I do remember misreading a lot of putts,” Johnson said. “But the weather was perfect. The crowd was great. I didn’t play bad considering what I was up against.”
Reality of where he was came when he signed his card, and Johnson was picked for drug testing after his round.
Rollins, meanwhile, came to Sea Island with plenty of rest.
He was in good shape to advance to the third round of the FedEx Cup playoffs when he shot a 79 on the final day at the TPC Boston, giving him a month off that he didn’t want.
Rollins and his wife talked about his season – a tie for third in Greenboro, 72nd on the money list, no danger of losing his card because of winning on tour last year. He didn’t feel as though it was up to his standards.
It sounded as though he did most of the listening.
“I don’t want it to seem like she was chewing me out or anything, but it was just sort of a wake-up call – ‘Hey, if you want to play good and make these teams, put the work in and get it done.’ So that’s where we’ve gone,” he said.
Rollins figured there was no need to wait until next year. He has four tournaments left, and he’s trying to end his year with a win.
For most players, the Fall Series is only about finishing in the top 125 on the money list to keep the card for next year. Merritt, who won Q-School a year ago.
Merritt is 123rd on the money list. The group at 65 includes Joe Durant, who is at No. 131, and Michael Letzig at No. 145.
Justin Leonard, who was playing well enough toward the end of the FedEx Cup to warrant consideration for the Ryder Cup, opening with a 66, while Bill Haas shot a 67 a week after winning the Viking Classic. Because he won during the Fall Series, Haas’ victory does not give him an exemption to the Masters. He is No. 26 on the money list, however, and the top 30 get to Augusta National.