Jaeger, Hall share first-round lead at Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank
June 25, 2020
By Stewart Moore, PGATOUR.COM
- June 25, 2020
- Stephan Jaeger fired an opening-round 63 to get a share of the lead on Thursday. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
FARMINGTON, Utah – Through 18 holes of play in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank, England’s Harry Hall and Germany’s Stephan Jaeger sit tied atop the leaderboard after matching rounds of 8-under 63 on a day where 94 players in the 156-player field broke 70.
Hall began Thursday’s opening round at Oakridge Country Club near Salt Lake City in idyllic fashion, notching birdies on Nos. 1, 2 and 3 to race out to a 3-under-par start before hitting the brakes hard with a double-bogey on the par-4 fifth.
“Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing some great golf and I knew if I made a double-bogey I could get it back,” said Hall after his round. “I followed that up with two birdies, I stayed patient, and a lot of birdies came on the back nine.”
After turning in 3-under 33 (thanks to birdies on Nos. 6 and 7), the Hayle, England, native birdied 11, 12 and 13 to reach 6-under on the day before closing with birdies on 17 and 18 for a 5-under 30 and a career-best opening round of 8-under 63.
“To be honest, in the practice rounds the last two days, I didn’t really see a low score out here. But I hit it great off the tee today – hit it long – and hit it close and holed some good putts, so I think knowing the course now under pressure, I think I’m a lot more comfortable,” said Hall, who cited his putter as the reason for the low round.
After finishing a standout career at UNLV where he was named 2019 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Hall remained an amateur through the summer in order to represent the International Team in the Palmer Cup and Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in his native England last September. He launched his professional career soon thereafter at the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he posted a T15 finish after being paired with Rory McIlroy in the final round – beating McIlroy by two shots that day.
Hall added a 12th-place finish at the South African Open in November, but then stumbled in the final stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, closing in 73-71 for a T114 finish and had no chance of getting into early-season events on his number.
Following the temporary suspension of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 22-year-old Monday qualified for the Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass once the Tour made its return to competition a few weeks ago, but missed the cut by two shots with a 2-over 142 total through 36 holes of play.
At TalonsCove Golf Club in nearby Saratoga Springs, Utah, Hall posted a 7-under 65 in the Utah Championship’s Monday qualifier and survived a 7-for-3 playoff in order to yet again gain a start in the event via professional golf’s hardest route. He ventured well into nighttime – 9:45 p.m. to be exact – and required six holes to earn his spot in one of the Korn Ferry Tour’s oldest events.
“I’ve gotten a pretty good ‘Monday Q’ track record, so I’m just trying to prove myself on the Tour, get some guaranteed starts and not really look back,” he said. “I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.”
Jaeger, who owns the Tour’s all-time scoring record with a 12-under 58 in the 2016 Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae, played in the afternoon wave on Thursday, matching Hall’s early-morning pace after posting six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 second (his 11th) in his first 12 holes of play.
The 31-year-old, who played at UT-Chattanooga and currently lives in the Tennessee city, slowed down considerably after the eagle-birdie run on his closing nine, playing the last six holes even-par to match Hall with an 8-under 63 of his own.
“I had a lot of good wedges, honestly. On the front, I just kind of kept it in front of me and had a lot of easy putts – uphill. On these greens, they have to be uphill putts, otherwise you kind of have to play defense,” said Jaeger. “I started off hot on the second nine and kind of limped in, but it’s still a good round. I’m obviously right there and (with) three more rounds like this, we’re going to be good.”
Jaeger made his first six cuts of the Tour’s re-imagined 2020 season before missing the weekend last week at The King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village. Making his 91st career start this week, the Munich native is no stranger to the winner’s circle on the Korn Ferry Tour, claiming the aforementioned Ellie Mae Classic and three other titles – most recently, the 2018 Visit Knoxville Open.
Jaeger was a full member of the PGA TOUR during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, racking up nine top-25 finishes including a career-best T13 at the 2018 Quicken Loans National.
Regardless of his success, the eighth-year professional knows the field in Utah is deep, and there is no excuse for letting up after a stellar start.
“Obviously I’ve been fortunate enough to win a couple. It just goes back to, if you play good – there are so many young guys out there who are playing good and have been the whole year – it really doesn’t matter how much success you’ve had,” he said. “These guys come out and they’re ready to win. You just have to keep the pedal down and make birdies, especially this week.”
Five players sit T3 with rounds of 7-under 64, including 2009 Utah Championship winner Josh Teater, who finished runner-up to Viktor Hovland in the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open in February before the pandemic halted the season. The 41-year-old, who missed the cut in the Charles Schwab Challenge two weeks ago, is currently No. 114 in the FedExCup.