Fort Wayne, Ind. – A bit of golf history was made on Thursday with the launch of the PGA TOUR’s new Web.com Tour Finals at the Hotel Fitness Championship at Indiana’s Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Three-time PGA TOUR winner Scott McCarron took the first-round lead with an 8-under-par 64 that included two holed bunker shots, eight birdies and an eagle.
Four players are one shot back at 7-under-par 65 – Bud Cauley, Jason Gore, Troy Matteson and Scott Harrington.
Jeff Klauk and Aaron Oberholser are another shot back after posting 66.
With little wind, temperatures in the mid-80s and a perfectly manicured golf course, conditions were ideal for scoring at the 7,360-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
The Web.com Tour Finals are a four-event series that features a blend of Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR players vying for 50 PGA TOUR cards and positioning for the upcoming 2013-14 TOUR season.
Additional Finals events are scheduled in September in Davidson, N.C., Columbus, Ohio and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Starting his day on the back nine, McCarron recorded a bogey on the par-4, 10th. The former UCLA Bruin proceeded to bunker his tee shot on the par-3, 11th before holing the first of two sand shots on the day. He was looking at his second bogey in three holes when he rammed in a 25-footer for par on the 12th. At that point his caddie turned to him and said, “This is going to be exciting!”
“If you would have told me on the third hole I was going to shoot 64, I would have said you were crazy,” McCarron said after his round.
An eagle on the par-5, 15th spurred a 7-under-par run over nine holes in the middle of his round. A birdie on McCarron’s final hole, No. 9, completed his best round since he posted a 64 at The McGladrey Classic in Oct. 2011.
The resident of Reno, Nev., has 11 events remaining on a PGA TOUR medical exemption. Last October, he underwent thumb surgery and admittedly returned too early, playing the Humana Challenge in January. “We’re athletes and we want to play,” he said. “Just look at RG III.”
* Weather – Mostly sunny. Overnight low of 60. Daytime high of 86. Winds NE 6-12.
* Alex Aragon hit the first shot in the Web.com Tour Finals, teeing off on No. 1 with Greg Owen and Tim Wilkinson.
* Greg Owen made the first birdie of the Finals’ when he rolled in a 25-footer on No. 1.
* Scott McCarron is making only his ninth career start on the Web.com Tour and his third this year. Previously, he missed the cut at the South Georgia Classic in April and the Mid-Atlantic Championship in June. The last cut McCarron made on this Tour came in 1995 when he finished T20 at the Shreveport Open.
* McCarron has made only one cut in his past 14 starts on the PGA TOUR over the past two years. He was 0-for-6 last year and 1-for-8 this year – he finished 69th at the Reno-Tahoe Open.
* Jason Gore posted four birdies and an eagle in his first six holes today. Gore opened with a birdie-eagle-birdie run en route to a 7-under 65.
* Bud Cauley, 23, is in his second year on the PGA TOUR. Cauley made the cut in 10 of his 24 starts in 2013 and finished No. 131 on the FedExCup points list. Cauley’s best week was a T14 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
* Jhonattan Vegas posted a 5-under 67 in his first start since he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February. Vegas has been on the shelf after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder for a torn ligament.
* Arron Oberholser, who is recovering from a myriad of injuries (wrist, hip) over the past several years, posted bogey-free, 6-under 66. Oberholser missed the cut in both of his PGA TOUR starts this year – Northern Trust Open, Shell Houston Open. Oberholser last played regularly on Tour in 2007. He made 10 starts in 2008 and four in 2009. He missed the majority of that season and then was sidelined for all of 2010 and 2011.
* Leading Web.com Tour money winner Michael Putnam fired a 2-under 70. Putnam struggled a bit on the greens Thursday with 31 total putts.
* Andrew Putnam leads the field with nine birdies after 18 holes. Putnam, No. 50 on the Web.com Tour money list, posted a 5-under 67 which included two bogeys and a double-bogey.
* Looking ahead to Friday, the low-60 players (and ties) will make the 36-hole cut and advance to the weekend. Currently there are 69 players at 2-under par 70 or better.
65 – Troy Matteson
66 – Arron Oberholser
67 – Roland Thatcher
* Players have raved about the host Sycamore Hills Golf Club, which was ranked among “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” in 2011-12, including a few of the leaders:
Scott McCarron – “This is a really good golf course. It’s in great shape and the weather is fantastic, so I expect the scores to be low today.”
Jason Gore – “The golf course played great.”
Troy Matteson – “This is a very enjoyable track. The course is in great shape. It rewards good shots. You have to pick and choose your lines off the tee. It’s not just driver on every hole. You have to hit it both ways.”
Scott Harrington – “I really like Sycamore Hills. It’s a great golf course. As the fairways get firmer, it’s going to be important to be in the fairway and have the right angles. The course puts a premium on iron play.
*Asked about the PGA TOUR’s new qualifying path, players had the following comments:
Gore - “It’s nice to have four weeks rather than six days. I’m approaching every week as the (qualifying school) Finals stage.”
Matteson – “The PGA TOUR never does anything to hurt players. This format gives us two chances each year to regain your TOUR card if you don’t have a great year. When I came out of school I needed the Web.com Tour to learn how to play and how to be on the road. It’s a lot when a young guy comes out of college. It’s so difficult to be successful. You usually get your teeth kicked in that first year. This is definitely set up to be an opportunity. The Finals will maintain the competitiveness of our sport.”
Harrington – “The new format is great. I’m a good example. I had an average year, but now with a good month or a really good tournament you can lock it up. It's great that everybody earned the right to be here off our tour or the PGA TOUR. It's a great test. You've got to play hard for four tournaments and the best 25 will move on.”
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