By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- One down, five to go.
Q-school is a marathon and not a sprint, but Steve LeBrun put himself in good shape with an opening-round 64 on the Stadium Course to take a one-shot lead after the first round at PGA West.
Only the top 25 (and ties) after six rounds will receive PGA TOUR cards for 2013 with the rest earning Web.com Tour status or conditional status on that tour.
On a pristine day in the desert, LeBrun was flawless, making eight birdies and no bogeys on the typically more difficult of the two courses.
LeBrun spent this past season on the Web.com Tour, where he had four top 10s and made 14 of 21 cuts. His best finish was a fourth-place at the Miccosukee Championship.
Among the four players tied for a second is Kris Blanks, who despite nagging injuries since mid-summer managed to be mistake-free.
Prior to the second stage of q-school, Blanks hadn’t played competitively since the John Deere Classic in July because of a shoulder injury.
During that time, Blanks played only a half-dozen rounds and most of those were with buddies at his home course in Jupiter, Fla., where more beers were consumed than strokes counted.
At one point, Blanks’ shoulder was so bad he could hit an 8-iron just 130 yards. He’d routinely play from the forward tees just to avoid being frustrated.
“I just didn’t have the ability to swing with any amount of speed,” said Blanks, who got three different opinions on his shoulder before visiting Dr. James Andrews, who prescribed a daily routine of rehab exercises. “If I did, it would hurt.”
If there was an upside to being sidelined, it was that Blanks spent many of his waking hours working on his putting -- one of the weaker areas of his game -- on the synthetic green in his backyard.
“I couldn’t beat balls and do the things I needed to do until I got things calmed down in my shoulder,” Blanks said.
That extra time spent on his putting paid off in the opening round Wednesday with Blanks at one point making six birdies in an eight-hole stretch on the Stadium Course.
”It’s definitely great to get a low round under your belt,” he said. “It affords you the luxury of not having to be so precise the next five rounds.”
That same luxury was also afforded to Robert Karlsson and Erik Compton, who are 6 and 5 under, respectively, after the first round.
“Sometimes in a TOUR event you’re 10 back before you even tee off,” Compton said. “Here, you have to get a piece of the pie every day.”
Other notables in good shape after the first round include Vaughn Taylor, Joseph Bramlett and Daniel Chopra. All three are tied for 20th at 4 under.
Ross Fisher is among a large group another stroke back, while Camilo Villegas, Billy Horschel, Billy Hurley III, Heath Slocum, James Nitties and Rod Pampling are among those at 2 under.
Following his opening-round 64 at the 2012 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Charlie Wi meets with the media and talks about what got his round going.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Charlie Wi is in a familiar position: In the lead after the first round.
Wi shot an 8-under 64 Thursday on the Palm Course at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. It is the eighth time in his career he has been atop the leaderboard after the opening day.
Whether he can stay there is another matter. The 40-year-old has yet to win in 183 starts on the PGA TOUR.
For now, though, Wi owns a one-shot lead over Tommy Gainey and Camilo Villegas. Gainey is trying to win for a second straight start, while Villegas is looking for his first win since 2010.
“The Palm Course is a course where you need to score,” Wi said. “All the par 5s are reachable so I felt like I took advantage of them.”
Specifically the seventh hole, where Wi sank an eagle putt from 15 feet. “When I made [that], I felt like I had something special going today,” said Wi, who took just 22 putts Thursday.
Twice this year Wi has been similarly special. He opened with a 61 in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a 66 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. He finished second and 29th, respectively, in those events.
Thursday, Wi played the par 5s in 5 under. He also made eight birdies and an eagle, which included a chip-in on No. 9 to go out in 30 before closing out his round with back-to-back birdies.
Should Wi go on to win, he would move inside the top 30 on the money list, which would earn him a spot in next year’s Masters.
“I wasn’t showing up just to play,” Wi said. “I wanted to finish strong.”
That’s been easier said than done. Wi ranks 157th and 146th, respectively, in third and fourth-round scoring average.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There are more than spots in the top 125 on the money list on the line this week, at least for Brian Harman.
Harman entered the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic 85th in money. After a 66, however, he’s projected to move up 20 spots, which would guarantee him a spot in all the invitationals next year.
The rookie out of the University of Georgia has had an impressive season so far -- he tied for fifth at The Barclays, 10th at the CIMB Classic, 11th at the AT&T National and posted back-to-back T-15s at the John Deere Classic and RBC Canadian Open in mid-summer.
“It’s been the most fun year of my life,” Harman said Thursday.
After five birdies, an eagle and no bogeys on the Palm Course in the opening round, next season could be even more fun.
Following his opening-round 67 at the 2012 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Matt Every meets with the media and talks about not making any mistakes.
Following an opening-round 65, Camilo Villegas reflects on his play in the 2012 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with Bob Stevens from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After a fast start to his career that included two wins in his first three years on the PGA TOUR, Camilo Villegas went the next four with just one victory.
Worse yet, he came into this week’s season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic 150th on the money list -- he’d never finished lower than 77th -- and faced with the possibility that he could be without card for next season.
Thursday, though, he shot a 65 on the Palm Golf Course to share second with Tommy Gainey.
It’s a major step in the right direction for Villegas, who over the last month has played some of his best golf of the season with three finishes in the top 30. Now, he’s looking to take it a step further.
“I beat myself a little bit too much sometimes,” Villegas said. “When you beat yourself a little bit too much, there's little things that make you miserable.”
He had reason to be. After spending at one point more than 30 weeks in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Villegas has plummeted to outside the top 200. And if he fails to finish in the top 150 on the money list, he’ll have to go through the second stage of q-school -- rather than straight to the final stage if he finishes between 126th and 150th.
In a place that dubs itself the happiest place on earth, however, Villegas had plenty to smile about after his opening round. He made eight birdies, including four in a row at one point, and just one bogey after missing just three greens in regulation. He also putted better than he has most of the season with nine one-putts Thursday. For the year, Villegas ranks 156th in strokes gained-putting.
”I just kept reminding myself how good life is,” said Villegas, who was well aware of his position on the money list coming into the week. “If you're good at this game, if you are out, you will be back in.
“There were a couple times where I just made certain decisions that I kind of knew I was wrong, and I was like, you know, what's going on. That's just not me. Again, why am I going to be miserable about certain little things? Because that's what happens when you're playing bad. The little things just get under your skin.”
Now Villegas’ biggest worry will be trying to hold onto the lead.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Just prior to The McGladrey Classic, Tommy Gainey switched irons, going from Callaway’s Diablo forged irons to the company’s Razr X. He also tweaked his driver.
Less than a week later, Gainey shot a final-round 60 to win at Sea Island.
Fast forward to this week’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and Gainey is in a familiar position: Atop the leaderboard.
Gainey shot a 65 Thursday to share second with Camilo Villegas.
Momentum? Maybe. But Gainey made it a point not to celebrate his first career win.
“It's all about winning again for me,” said Gainey, who hit 10 fairways and 13 greens while taking just 24 putts. “You know, my goal has not been achieved yet. And that is to get to Augusta.”
Even if Gainey goes on to win, however, he won’t qualify for the Masters. He came into the week 56th on the money list. The highest he can move up is to 32nd -- only the top 30 at the end of this week qualify.
Still, Gainey of course wants to keep it going. He went 104 starts on the PGA TOUR without a win and now has a chance for his second straight victory.
And it all goes back to his accuracy off the tee, at least lately.
“I've never hit this many fairways in my life,” Gainey said. “It's a lot easier when you're in the fairways than that rough.”