SAN ANTONIO, Texas – News and notes from Thursday’s opening round of the Valero Texas Open, with Branden Grace holding a one-shot lead after an opening 6-under 66 at TPC San Antonio. Click here for the Daily Wrap-Up.
GRACE SEEING THE LIGHT
In his first 10 starts this season, Branden Grace has yet to finish inside the top 10. In his last 21 starts worldwide, he has just one top-10 finish. Those aren’t the kind of results he expects – or that golf fans expect from a player ranked among the world’s best.
But maybe the South African is turning the corner. He tied for 27th at the Masters two weeks – and was just happy to make the cut on the number. Last week, he tied for 11th in his title defense at the RBC Heritage. And on Friday, he produced seven birdies to take the lead. In a season of frustration, he’s finally trending up.
“It started at Augusta,” said Grace, who entered this week 21st in the world. “Making the cut was big for me and progressed nicely over the weekend. Obviously last week defending is pretty special and you get the positive vibes and the memories.”
He also has positive vibes here. In three previous starts, he’s improved his standing each time, tying for ninth a year ago. He said he enjoys the challenges of the windy conditions that often impact tournaments in Texas, and figuring out a plan to attack the greens.
On Thursday, he said the wind adjustment was 1-1/2 clubs. Hard to argue with his calculations. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and missed just four greens.
“I feel my game is progressing in the right way,” Grace said. “Obviously it’s easier coming to places like this … It’s nice to make seven birdies. That’s the one round I was waiting for.”
CHARLEY AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Call it Candygate.
No one seemed to know for sure who was responsible for the leftover Reese’s chocolate Easter egg that exploded in defending champ Charley Hoffman’s bag.
Hoffman said he thinks it was his wife Stacy. Caddie Brett Waldman said Stacy told him it was one of the Hoffman kids who had left the candy on the bag last Sunday.
Either way, it made for a slightly messy – and fairly humorous -- situation as Hoffman finished out his front nine in the first round.
It was on the ninth hole, with Hoffman facing a difficult chip from behind the green, when Waldman pulled out all the clubs out of Hoffman’s bag and started checking each one, cleaning the few that had been smeared by the chocolate. By the time Waldman finished, all 14 clubs were on the ground and the melted evidence was being shown on television.
Hoffman said he had noticed “some residue on my club and I smelled it” and so asked Waldman to check all the clubs. As it turned out, the timing couldn’t have been any better. Hoffman saved par on the hole, eventually scrambling his way to a 1-under 71.
“I guess the Easter bunny hid a little chocolate in my bag,” Hoffman said. “You forget it’s in there and all of the sudden … you never know when it’s going to open up.”
For the veteran Waldman, it wasn’t the first time he’s had to empty a bag during a round.
“I had to do it one other time when the clubs when in the water when I worked for Ben Crane,” he said. “I had to dump the water out of (the bag).”
What's in the bag? Chocolate??
REED'S UNCOOPERATIVE WEDGE
Patrick Reed was happy with 13 of the 14 clubs Thursday. As for the new wedge he put in his bag this week?
Eh, not so much.
Reed said he’s still learning how best to use the wedge, but it cost him a shot near the end of his round. With his ball just off the green at the par-3 seventh – his 16th hole of the day – Reed was hoping his chip would release to the pin. Instead it surprised him by checking up, and he missed the 9-1/2 footer to save par.
Reed then double-bogeyed the next hole – he called it a “mental mistake” to go for the green at the par-5 eighth -- and he was forced to settle for a 3-under 69. It was a disappointing finish to an otherwise spectacular round that included four consecutive birdies just before the turn.
“Before 7, I’d give it an A-minus,” Reed said about his round. “… I felt in complete control.”
Reed said it usually takes a week to break in a new club. “Next week, I’ll be fine.” But for now, he’ll try to win with 13 clubs in sync.
CALL OF THE DAY
THAT'S ONE GNARLY BALL
Will MacKenzie shot a 5-under 67 despite seeing one of his shots hit a sprinkler head, and another one bounce off a rock. Both times, he managed a birdie.
That’s why he decided to keep the ball in play – despite it’s less-than-pristine condition. MacKenzie and his caddie couldn’t help but laugh.
“I was like, ‘We’re going to use this ball all day, all nicked up,’ “ MacKenzie said. “The gnarliest ball ever. You know, it just loosed the round up.”
Alas, the ball didn’t make it all 18 holes. MacKenzie – who best finish here was a tie for second three years ago -- failed to birdie any of the par 5s on Thursday. After one of those pars, he switched his gnarly ball for one that was in better shape.
“I was kind of angry,” MacKenzie said, “so I put it to rest.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Ken Duke's fired up eagle is the Shot of the Day
ODDS AND ENDS
Last Friday, Robby Shelton claimed medalist honors at the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada q-school in central Florida, allowing him to set his schedule with the 12 Canadian events this summer. He received a sponsor’s exemption from the Valero Texas Open later that evening. On Thursday, he shot a 4-under 68 to tie for sixth. “I kept the momentum up, for sure,” Shelton said. …
Ian Poulter’s 3-over 75 means he’ll need to scramble in order to make the cut and have a chance to keep his status for the rest of the season. Poulter is making his last start on a Major Medical Extension and must earn enough FedExCup points or enough money this week. If he finishes solo 12th, he’ll gain enough points to play in THE PLAYERS Championship and Quicken Loans National …
Steven Alker, playing in the last group of the day, had quite the finish. The New Zealander birdied his final three holes – including putts from 21 feet and 16 feet – to move into a four-way tie for second with a 5 under 67…
Stewart Cink (67), Brian Gay (68) and Jhonattan Vegas (69) were a hot trio in the afternoon, a collective 12 under. “It's always nice to have guys in the group all playing well because just everybody is in a good mood. Easy conversations,” Cink said. …
Curtis Luck’s first round as a pro golfer did not start well. He opened with three bogeys and shot a 1-over 73. … morning wave had the advantage on Thursday. The early scoring average was 71.59, compared to the afternoon’s 72.13.
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Good start to the week @valerotxopen ... just watch out for the 🌵— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) April 20, 2017
Keep getting in my way on the course! Need to step aside and let my game do the work.— Billy Horschel (@BillyHo_Golf) April 21, 2017