Man and Mother Nature rarely play well together in golf. But when they do, the results can be spectacular.
After three days of intermittent rain softened the usually unforgiving greens, and with virtually no wind to speak of, TPC Summerlin turned into a sea of red numbers Thursday during the first round of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
With the PGA Tour pros able to fire at pins with impunity, under-par scores were the order of the day, and five players were tied atop the leaderboard at 7-under 64.
Michael Letzig, Cameron Tringale, Robert Garrigus, Will MacKenzie and John Senden share the lead, with five players one shot back, including 2007 Las Vegas winner George McNeill.
Fifteen players were two shots back at 66, and few of the 132 starters could be considered out of contention. Only 25 failed to shoot par or better.
Letzig might have had the wildest ride of anyone. The former New Mexico golfer started on the back nine and quickly made four birdies followed by an eagle at the par-5 16th to reach 6 under. With 11 holes to play in favorable conditions, the course record of 61 by Davis Love III was not out of Letzig’s reach.
Suddenly, he hit the wall. He finished his front nine with two pars, then bogeyed two of his first three holes after making the turn to fall back to 4 under.
Letzig rallied late in his round, making a birdie at the par-3 No. 8 and closing out with an eagle on the par-5 ninth.
"I got off to an unbelievable start, then I just fell asleep in the middle of the round," Letzig said. "I played really sloppy. I missed a couple of greens with wedges in my hand. I just kind of got mad at myself."
Letzig stemmed his slump with his putter.
"I’ve been putting awful, just miserable," he said. "I got a putting lesson (Wednesday) and got some good things to think about. I rolled the ball great."
Like Letzig, Tringale could also have had the lead to himself. He was 7 under with two holes to play but made bogey at No. 8 and needed a birdie at No. 9 to stay with the leaders.
"It’s a good round," he said. "One bogey? I’ll take it.
"One of my goals is to not let things bother me. I try not to live and die with every shot."
Garrigus was the first player to tee off on No. 10 in the morning group. He made the turn at 3 under, then made birdies on four of the first seven holes.
"I’ve never seen the golf course so soft," Garrigus said. "The greens were perfect. I think teeing off first definitely was an advantage. There were no spike marks to deal with and the ball was rolling true."
MacKenzie, who also teed off early on No. 1, birdied Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16.
"I warmed up awful and I felt terrible," he said. "But I got off to a great start, then I started struggling. I three-putted No. 8 and made bogey. Then I hit a great 2-iron in at No. 9 and nearly made eagle. That kind of got me back on track."
MacKenzie acknowledged there was pressure to take advantage of the low-scoring conditions.
"Guys are going to shoot so low out here," he said. "Any day you can get it going, keep it going because you’re going to have a day where you’re going to shoot even to 2 under, even if you’re playing well. You need that 6-, 8-under day or two."
Senden, who teed off in the afternoon, played a bogey-free round. He made the turn at 3 under, made birdie on the par-4 No. 1, added birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 and finished with a birdie at No. 9.
"With the course so soft, there were a lot of birdies out there," Senden said. "I tried to stay patient. Today, 3, 4 or 5 under par was a good score.
But 7 under was even better.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.Shriners Open – Oct. 21
At TPC Summerlin
Purse: $4.3 million
Yardage: 7,224; Par: 71 (35-36)
• Robert Garrigus 31-33 – 64
• Will MacKenzie 32-32- 64
• John Senden 31-33 – 64
• Michael Letzig 34-30 – 64
• Cameron Tringale 31-33 – 64
• George McNeill 33-32 – 65
• Nicholas Thompson 33-32 – 65
• Ryan Palmer 32-33 – 65
• Vaughn Taylor 33-32 – 65
• Martin Flores 33-32 – 65
15 tied at 66