By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Two years ago, Robert Karlsson was losing the vision on his left eye because of a rare condition that he still takes special eye drops for. The Swede couldn’t read the lines on his putts and everything was blurry.
Since being treated, however, Karlsson’s sight has been much better, and at least in Memphis so has his play.
A year ago, Karlsson was part of a three-man playoff at TPC Southwind, where he eventually lost to Lee Westwood on the fourth extra hole. Today, he’s trying to make sure there is no need for a playoff.
Karlsson is 9 under for the week -- including 5 under through his first 12 holes -- and at the moment is four shots clear of his closest competitor.
”It's great to be back here,” Karlsson said after his opening-round 66. “I do like the golf course.
“I learned quite quickly that you want to stay out of the rough and play the course from tee to green. Stay in the fairway as much as possible. You can't stop the ball from the rough.”
Karlsson hasn’t done a great job of avoiding the rough -- he’s hit 15 of 24 fairways -- but he has done an excellent job of recovering from it, hitting 23 of 32 greens in regulation so far.
The Swede is also putting well -- something that was almost impossible a couple of years ago -- and that’s as big a reason he’s in the position he is as anything.
As for overnight leader David Mathis, he hasn’t been able to take advantage of an early tee time. He’s just even par through his first nine holes.
Ditto defending champion Lee Westwood, who is even par for the tournament and 1 over through 13 holes here in the second round.
Colt Knost was the only player without a bogey Thursday in Memphis, but he still trails leader David Mathis by one after a 66 that leaves him in a five-way tie for second.
Mathis, as mentioned earlier, made his first bogey on the penultimate hole but his 65 was still good enough to be the best number on the board in a difficult day of scoring at TPC Southwind, where only 31 players broke par.
“When you see 4 under is low after the morning, you know, you recognize that there's something going on,” Mathis said. “Whether it be pin placements or firmness of the greens or tricky wind. So you just try to be patient. Like I said, I hit some really good shots early and then avoided the mistakes. Add that with making some putts for birdie and it turns out to be a solid day.”
Of course Mathis, who’s never held an overnight lead on the PGA TOUR, also knows there’s a long way to go.
“I'm just trying to keep poise about me,” he said. “Just take it for what it is, enjoy it, be thankful for a good round and try to reproduce it for the next three days.”
On a side note, Stuart Appleby, who shot 78, and Chris Stroud, who had an 80, both withdrew. Stroud cited a wrist injury, while Appleby did not give a reason.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for David Mathis, who nearly made it through his round bogey-free -- until he got to the par-3 eighth (his 17th hole of the day), where he three-putted from just inside 53 feet.
The good news for Mathis is despite that late bogey, he’s still in the lead, finishing with a 5-under 65 to lead by one over five others currently at 4 under.
One of those at 4 under is Colt Knost, who has a chance to be the only player in the field to finish the opening round without a bogey.
David Mathis had six top-10 finishes on the Nationwide Tour in 2010, including a win at the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open, which is what secured his PGA TOUR card for this year.
Now he’s trying to win on TOUR to secure his status for the next two years.
Mathis is 6 under through 16 holes at TPC Southwind, where he leads by two late in the opening round.
This, however, is not Mathis’ first go-round on the TOUR.
In 2009, Mathis made 15 cuts in 27 starts on TOUR. Among those 15 made cuts, he cracked the top 25 twice. A tie for 17th at the Wyndham Championship was his best finish of the year. His second-best? A tie for 23rd … here at the FedExSt. Jude Classic.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for Mathis to keep his card. A good finish this week, however, would certainly make a difference. Mathis already has a couple of top-25s this year, including a tie for eighth in New Orleans.