By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
DAVIDSON, N.C. – What a difference a change in venue can make.
After four rounds of flag-hunting last week, birdies were far less frequent in the first round of the Chiquita Classic. Just 14 golfers broke 70 on Thursday at River Run Country Club – less than one-third of the number recorded at the opening round in Fort Wayne.
“It demands good shots,” said Peter Malnati, who reached 4-under before a bogey/bogey finish left him three shots off the lead. “For the most part, if you don’t drive it in the fairway, you’re going to have to work really hard to save par.”
Trevor Immelman, last week’s winner, put it more succinctly: “If you’re in the rough, you’re probably not going to advance it to the green.”
Though the Bermudagrass rough is just under 3 inches at River Run, the ball is quick to sink to the bottom.
“It sits down and you’ve really got no shot at getting at pins,” said co-leader Ben Kohles, who recorded his 5-under 67 in the day’s final group. “It really puts a premium on putting it in the fairway, whereas last week you could kind of get away with mishitting it.”
River Run played just above par on Thursday, posting an average of 72.302. By comparison, last week’s four-day scoring average at par-72 Sycamore Hills was 70.279.
IDLING IN REVERSE: Immelman and Kevin Kisner, ranked Nos. 1 and 4 on the Finals priority rankings as they left Fort Wayne, played River Run in a combined 11-over par Thursday.
Immelman carded a 73 as the putting that lifted him to the Hotel Fitness title went cold at River Run. It was still far better than Kisner, who skied to an 82 that included three double bogeys and a triple.
“A really rough day,” Immelman said.
Nor did it help that they were playing as a twosome. Groupings were determined by their ranking on the Finals money list – and No.2 Patrick Cantlay withdrew from the field on Tuesday with continued back woes.
“That didn’t help at all,” Immelman said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, but there was just too much waiting on shots. I like to analyze things, and I start thinking too much when that happens. I need simpler thinking.”
DRIVER TRAINING: After a blistering start that featured five birdies and an eagle, Nick O’Hern’s driver betrayed him. The 42-year-old veteran hit just one fairway on River Run’s front nine, playing that side in 1-over par.
That’s a huge departure from O’Hern’s norm – he led the PGA TOUR in driving accuracy this year, hitting fairways at a 77.4 percent clip.
The affable Aussie suggested they just need a little more time together.
O’Hern’s trusty driver developed a crack in the shaft on Wednesday, sending it to the sideline. Though a new Ping model was ready for play Thursday, it just didn’t have quite the same feel.
“Maybe just through not having hit it as much, I started struggling and lost a bit of confidence,” he said. “But I’ll work on it tonight and I’m sure it’ll be back to good behavior tomorrow.”
REGAINING HIS FOCUS: Jeff Klauk’s opening 69 marked his second solid start in the finals. He also was two shots off the lead after one round in Fort Wayne, eventually recording a tie for 24th.
Klauk split his time between the two tours in 2013, playing the final eight starts of a medical extension on the PGA TOUR before fully turning his attention to the Web.com circuit. But he struggled for consistency after the transition, making just seven of 15 cuts.
Part of the reason, he believes, is that he spent too much time worrying where the FedExCup points he earned would take him. A pair of top-30 finishes on the PGA TOUR put him in range of making the Finals off that list instead of Web.com Tour earnings.
“I was mentally not allowing myself to play well,” said Klauk, who underwent brain surgery last year to alleviate an epileptic condition.
“I was always thinking about was I going to finish high enough on the FedExCup list to get in here. I was worrying about one thing to get to another. Now that’s all behind me and I’m just in a better state of mind.”